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Commit to struggle in Dr. King’s name

Published in St. Louis American, January 15, 2019

It’s that time of year where one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech will permeate the air. “I Have a Dream” is often quoted – even by the perpetrators of greed, racism and injustice. If half of us were truly carrying out the principles of Dr. King, the world wouldn’t be such a ball of confusion, with ruptured communities and massive chaos.

The brilliance and complexity of Dr. King’s work is his enduring analysis of this country’s three evils:  racism, war and poverty. Over five decades since his death, these three evils are alive and well and continually stoked by the likes of Trump. Dreaming won’t rid us of them either.

Billions of tax dollars are spent each year in military aggression, both home and abroad. One in six Americans now lives below the poverty line. The unemployment rate for black people has been doubled that of whites since 1972. Poverty and economic injustice are twins that still dominate. The big tax cut by Trump no way eased the deep suffering of poor and working people.

The King had many profound insights about life in the U.S. that can still inform our quest for racial and economic justice. Because the mainstream media has us stuck on dreaming, it has taken years to uncover the nuggets of wisdom in King’s many speeches and writings that expose the barriers to peace and prosperity for all American citizens.

Regarding the attack on the public schools, Dr. King believed that “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” Many of our children going to public schools are being robbed of a true education and, ultimately, their future.

The growing economic gap between the rich and poor is becoming an acceptable fact. Dr. King would have found it unconscionable believing “the curse of poverty has no justification in our age” and that the “the time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” To know that a CEO makes 270 times more than the average worker would sicken the King.

On police brutality and the criminal courts, Dr. King said that “law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” He would be critical of any police department that persists in racial profiling and a prosecutor’s office that has difficulty figuring out who are the real criminals.

On war and U.S. imperialism, Dr. King was on point when he predicted that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Dr. King reminded us that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” He would be appalled to see that the richest country in the world had 45 million uninsured citizens despite the efforts of the first Black president to provide health care for all.

Dr. King has told us that the privileges of white people in an inherently racist society must be scrutinized in the quest for racial equity. White people marching arm-in-arm with blacks shouting “Black Lives Matter” is a picnic compared to what it takes to deconstruct an economic system built on racial and sexual exploitation.

On the government shutdown by a president who holds a nation hostage to get what he wants, Dr. King would be doing what he could to get a meeting with Trump. I can see him mustering up his most diplomatic negotiating skills to convince an insensitive egomaniac the value of humanity. This is a wannabe dictator who is taking the country into chaos.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, let justice-seeking people learn lessons from the past and declare a renewed commitment to the struggle ahead to save humanity and the planet. That’s what it really means to fully embrace Dr. King’s legacy. Communities must be built upon principles of trust and equity. Trust and believe Dr. King when he said full civil and human rights will not come at “bargain rates.”

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