Monday, January 21, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Democratic Socialist Vision

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Vision

“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. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you’re raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, “Where do We Go from Here?” (1967)

The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s leadership of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. On January 21st, the nation will celebrate the King national holiday while inaugurating for the second time Barack Obama, the first African- American President of the United States. If Dr. King were alive today, he would acknowledge that the USA has traveled some way along the road towards racial equality.

 But Dr. King would also urge us to deepen the struggle against the triple evils of bigotry, poverty and militarism. Yes we have a more diverse and inclusive society; but Dr. King recognized that political and civil rights do not bring about full human freedom absent good jobs and economic security for all. That’s why Democratic Socialists of America is helping to build a broad coalition to mark the 50th anniversaries of Michael Harrington’s classic anti-poverty work, The Other America (1962), the 1963 March on Washington, and the not-yet-completed War on Poverty (1964). This DSA Fund project will work to renew efforts to eliminate mass poverty in the United States. (See and

 This is a time, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, to reflect upon the real challenges facing America: growing inequality, increasing poverty and the scarcity of good jobs.

 The last-minute Congressional budget “deal" to avoid the "fiscal cliff" imposes modest tax increases on the super-rich, but it leaves most wage earners and the most vulnerable members of our society exposed to economic disaster.

 Since the tax deal does not provide sufficient new revenues to fund essential government programs or current commitments, let alone to satisfy the “deficit hawks,” the key battles over national priorities as expressed in the federal budget have merely been deferred to the next session of Congress, where powerful special interests will try to use a fake “debt ceiling crisis” to protect their tax breaks and Pentagon contracts at the expense of the needs of the people.

 In November, the majority of Americans voted for a society that would be more compassionate. However, our voices have not been heard in the clamor raised by Tea Party Republicans and the corporate billionaire-funded “Fix the Debt Coalition.”

Poverty and unemployment continue at disastrous levels in many communities of color. Because of a foreclosure crisis that exacerbates persistently high rates of unemployment and underemployment, African-American and Hispanic communities have lost most of their meager net wealth. Considerable disparities persist in education, income, life expectancy, health and incarceration. In all, 20.5 million Americans have an income less than half the poverty line.

 The impact on children is staggering. Among children under 18 living in households headed by single mothers, 47% are poor. Only 27% of poor families with children receive public assistance. In fact, there are now more children living in deep poverty, often lacking access to adequate nutrition, healthcare or decent education, than there were 50 years ago before the “War on Poverty” was launched.

A key cause of growing poverty in all lower income communities is the rapid growth of low- wage jobs. Half the jobs in the country pay less than $33,000 per year, and a quarter pay less than the poverty line of $22,000 for a family of four. In many sectors, unions no longer are able to negotiate decent wages and benefits that had sustained a modest middle-class life style.

Compassion dictates that the highest national priority has to be to create jobs that yield a living income so that families can provide support and security for their children.

At the same time we must adequately fund those domestic government programs that provide essential support for the working poor and most vulnerable, such as child nutrition programs, Title 1 education funding, housing and home heating assistance. These programs are threatened by impending automatic cuts in “domestic discretionary spending.”

To meet human needs we also must also protect and expand Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs that keep seniors and disabled persons out of deep poverty. We could both improve health care outcomes and cut our health care costs by one-third if we took the profit motive out of medicine and instituted a “Medicare for All” system.

We must cut non-essential and bloated forms of government spending that primarily benefit large corporations, particularly on military procurement. We need to raise more revenues by closing tax loopholes exploited by large corporations and crony capitalists who have prospered in recent decades at the expense of the rest of us.

 It was not seniors, the disabled, lower income communities, and the working poor that caused the economic crisis, but they are the ones still bearing the brunt of the crisis through austerity.


 “You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of the slums. . . . There must be a better distribution of wealth . . . And maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech to the SCLC staff Frogmore, S.C., November 14, 1966

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