by Anh Lê
As we celebrate the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 83rd birthday, let us remember that he not only fought for racial justice and equality, but also called on us to end poverty and eliminate war.
U.S. Census data show that over 20 percent of children in the U.S. live in abject poverty. Studies show that the number of American children going to bed hungry at night is at its highest. This is occurring in this vast land of plenty, a country blessed with rich agricultural production.
The numbers of Americans and families living in poverty have risen to their highest levels since 1993.
The number of unemployed and laid-off Americans, including the long term unemployed, remains high, with the unemployment rates in California and the San Francisco Bay Area higher than the national average.
The U.S. military excursion in Iraq and its war in Afghanistan have cost thousands of Americans’ lives and the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tens of billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars have been spent to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing war expenditures continue to drain our nation’s budget.
In his lecture when awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King stated, “(T)he poor in America know that they live in the richest nation in the world, and that even though they are perishing on a lonely island of poverty they are surrounded by a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
“Just as nonviolence exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, so must the infection and sickness of poverty be exposed and healed – not only its symptoms but its basic causes. This, too, will be a fierce struggle, but we must not be afraid to pursue the remedy no matter how formidable the task.”
Dr. King urged us to affirm peace: “(W)isdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete … If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.”
Let us honor Dr. King in word and in deed.
Editor’s note: All quotations come from Dr. King’s Nobel Lecture, which can be read in full here; a recording of the first portion of that speech can be heard here. According the Nobel Foundation, Nobel Laureates are required “to give a lecture on a subject connected with the work for which the prize has been awarded” in addition to their acceptance speeches. Dr. King’s lecture was delivered Dec. 11, 1964, the day after the award.
Anh Lê is a San Francisco writer and activist born in Vietnam who has worked in the Black community for decades, especially with seniors and young people. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MLK Day takes on added significance for 2012
Occupy upsurge and the fight for economic justice continues amid imperialist war threats
by Abayomi Azikiwe, editor, Pan-African News Wire
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 83 years old on Jan. 15. His birthday is celebrated every year on the following Monday, when the federal government and other public agencies close down in honor of the iconic civil rights, anti-war and social justice activist who was martyred in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.
This year the King Day holiday will take on profound significance in light of the political and social developments that have occurred over the last year. Millions have taken to the streets around the world in the fight against poverty, the increased attacks on working people and the oppressed and the need to end imperialist wars.
Since January of last year revolutionary movements have emerged from Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain and Yemen. The rebellions and general strikes in Tunisia led to the resignation of long-time Western-backed puppet Ben Ali as well as the forced removal of Mubarak in Egypt.
In Morocco, the monarchy was shaken in the midst of mass demonstrations that were largely unprecedented in recent times. Other states throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe saw popular movements erupt in opposition to rising food prices, the imposition of austerity and the intervention of United States imperialism along with their NATO allies.
Workers in European capitalist countries, especially Greece, Spain and Portugal, suffered tremendously from the ongoing world economic crisis. In Britain, Black and working class youth rose up in rebellion in response to the blatant police murder of a Caribbean-British man who was followed and shot to death in cold blood in London.
In Britain, Black and working class youth rose up in rebellion in response to the blatant police murder of a Caribbean-British man who was followed and shot to death in cold blood in London.
Inside the United States, the people’s uprising in Wisconsin was a direct response to the intensifying attacks on public sector workers and their right to collective bargaining. The workers and youth occupied the state capital in Madison for weeks and drew the attention of people throughout the world.
The struggle in Wisconsin paid direct tribute to their class brothers and sisters in Egypt. The progressive forces in Egypt, during the same time period, expressed their solidarity with the people in Wisconsin.
This movement of workers and youth, aimed at defending their right to organize and for quality education and a decent wage, spread to other states around the Midwest and nationally. In Ohio, legislative actions that were just as draconian as those passed in Wisconsin prompted mass action by trade unions and their supporters.
In Michigan, the conservative-dominated legislature wasted no time, after securing a majority in Lansing, to enact bills that cut public spending drastically. These cuts resulted in salary reductions, massive layoffs of public sector employees and the obliteration of city services.
The passage of Public Act 4 in Michigan superseded the former Public Act 72 that allowed for the imposition of emergency management of school systems and municipalities. Public Act 4, popularly known now as the “dictator law,” provides for the nullification of the authority of elected officials, the abrogation of labor and vending contracts and the forced payment to the banks of debt-service irrespective of the desires of the electorates or the unions.
Public Act 4, popularly known now as the “dictator law,” provides for the nullification of the authority of elected officials, the abrogation of labor and vending contracts and the forced payment to the banks of debt-service irrespective of the desires of the electorates or the unions.
Public Act 4 has been implemented in several majority African American populated cities, such as Flint and Benton Harbor. Detroit, the largest African American dominated city in the U.S., is under threat of takeover by Gov. Rick Snyder, who has recently appointed a financial review panel in an effort to justify the forcing of the city to accept a consent agreement that could ultimately lead to installation of an emergency manager.
Election years: From 1968 to 2012
The year that Dr. King was killed represented a watershed of mass struggle and urban rebellion. The previous year, 1967, saw over 160 instances of civil unrest throughout the U.S. as well as the emergence of a mass youth movement in opposition to the war in Vietnam.
Although Dr. King was a proponent of nonviolent direct action, he did not condemn the rebellions that swept the country between 1964 and 1968. The civil rights leader viewed the unrest within the urban areas as a result of the failure of the U.S. system to provide adequate living conditions, decent jobs and incomes to the majority of African Americans.
Dr. King did not condemn the rebellions that swept the country between 1964 and 1968 but viewed the unrest as a result of the failure of the U.S. system to provide adequate living conditions, decent jobs and incomes to the majority of African Americans.
In a “Face to Face” television interview conducted on July 28, 1967, just one day after President Lyndon Johnson had announced the appointment of a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder,” Dr. King said that “I am not calling for a guaranteed annual wage as a substitute for a guaranteed job. I think that ought to be the first thing, that we guarantee every person capable of working a job” (from “Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” 2001).
Dr. King continued by pointing out that “this can be done in many, many ways. There are many things that we need to be done that could be done that’s not being done now. And this could provide jobs.”
In 1968, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization that he founded in 1957 in the aftermath of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, set out to wage a real “war on poverty” by taking thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., to demand jobs and a guaranteed annual income. In March of 1968, he was invited to Memphis to support a sanitation workers strike that was representative of both the class struggle and the national question.
1968 was an election year just like 2012. Despite the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties have different constituencies, both organizations are controlled by the ruling class of bankers and industrialists.
The failure of the Democratic Party between 1961-68 to effectively resolve the problems of national oppression, discrimination, economic exploitation, poverty and war played a large part in their losing the elections in 1968. Today, even though the Democratic Party commanded a majority in both houses of Congress from 2006 to 2010 and has controlled the White House since 2009, rates of poverty and exploitation are continuing to rise.
The 2010 election results were a reflection of the lack of motivation on the part of working class people and the nationally oppressed to once again support Democratic candidates absent any real improvement in the concrete conditions under which they live. 2011 saw an acceleration of attacks against workers and the oppressed, and the only real defense against these assaults has emanated from the unions, the youth and the oppressed communities themselves.
This is why there needs to be a concerted effort outside the established ruling class parties to address the crises now facing the majority of people inside the U.S. The response of the Department of Homeland Security, operating through local municipal administrations, many of whom are led by Democrats, to the Occupy Wall Street Movement across the country, demonstrates that both of the capitalist-controlled parties do not want to see a real grassroots revolutionary struggle emerge that focuses on the role of the banks and the corporations as the fundamental cause of the economic crisis.
Both of the capitalist-controlled parties do not want to see a real grassroots revolutionary struggle emerge that focuses on the role of the banks and the corporations as the fundamental cause of the economic crisis.
It was the political repression carried out under a democratic administration in 1968 that created the conditions for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. During that same year, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared the Black Panther Party as the leading threat to the national security of the U.S.
After 1967, during the height of the rebellions, the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) sought to crush the Black Liberation Movement and the anti-war struggle. Scores of activists were killed and imprisoned as the National Guard and conventional military forces were deployed into the cities to smash the rebellions.
Since 2010, the FBI and other branches of the Department of Homeland Security have targeted immigrants, the nationally oppressed, Muslims, anti-war and solidarity activists for deportation, raids, targeted assassination and grand jury subpoenas. In the final days of 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that provides further ammunition for the ruling class to crack down on activists and organizations deemed to be a threat to the status-quo.
2012: Another year of momentous struggle
In all likelihood this year will also be one of protracted struggle and resistance. Signs of this are already developing with the Jan. 16 MLK Day actions in New York City under the banner of Occupy for Jobs. There will be rallies in Union Square in NYC, preceded by a march from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., beginning on Jan. 14, along with other actions in Boston.
Detroit is the focus of a growing mass struggle against the imposition of emergency management. On Jan. 2, over 2,000 people rallied at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church to say no to the appointment of an emergency manager.
In a statement issued for the Detroit rally on Jan. 2, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs stressed, “The same banks which caused the economic crisis and destroyed the City of Detroit’s tax base with their fraudulent and racist predatory loans resulting in approximately 150,000 foreclosures in the past five years now get first lien on city tax dollars for debt service payments.”
The same banks which caused the economic crisis and destroyed the City of Detroit’s tax base with their fraudulent and racist predatory loans resulting in approximately 150,000 foreclosures in the past five years now get first lien on city tax dollars for debt service payments.
Detroit’s Ninth Annual MLK Day Rally and March will be held under the theme of “Escalating the Struggle for Jobs, Peace and Justice.” Featured speakers will include contributors to the groundbreaking first-person account, “Hands on the Freedom Plow,” which examined the role of women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the vanguard organization within the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The emphasis at Detroit’s MLK Day rally, which is always held at Central United Methodist Church downtown, will drive home the need for a cadre-developing organization, a working class orientation, the important role of women and the oppressed and the need to build a movement outside the ruling class-dominated political parties.
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan-African News Wire, where this story first appeared, can be reached at email@example.com. Pan-African News Wire, the world’s only international daily pan-African news source, is designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world.