Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BTV Special! 50th Anniversary March for Jobs and Freedom!

The following was composed for the CWRU Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity Department's essay contest held prior to the Martin Luther King Day events earlier this year. There were several prompts essayists could choose from but one stood out for us.

Prompt No. 3: King on Poverty and Social Justice
Presented by the Undergraduate Student Government and Share the Vision

"There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for "the least of these."

Prompt No. 3 Taken from King, Martin Luther Jr., Les Prix Nobel en 1964. The text in the New York Times is excerpted. His speech of acceptance delivered the day before in the same place is reported fully both in Les Prix Nobel en 1964 and the New York Times. Read the full Nobel Peace Prize Lecture Online:

Here now is our award-winning response to Prompt No. 3 (in 750 words or less).

When Dr. King made this statement on poverty Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs were just getting underway and the Civil Rights Act had already been passed by Congress. Yet Dr. King knew there was much more to be done to combat poverty. At the time the war in Vietnam was escalating and the U.S. military budget was already over $367 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars).1 It wasn’t until Dr. King’s speech at Riverside Church, New York City, on April 4, 1967 that he tied military spending to the plight of the poverty-stricken at home.2 Decades later our society faces much the same paradox: incredible amounts of money going to the military budget while Congress argues how much “austerity” they can bring about by cutting core social programs like Social Security and Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the next budget will include military spending in excess of $637 billion 3 even though $60 billion or more have been lost to waste and fraud in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.4 President Obama, in signing this spending bill into law wrote, “I have approved this annual defense authorization legislation, as I have in previous years, because it …. helps ensure that the United States will continue to have the strongest military in the world.”5

Meanwhile as the military budget continues to grow with no questioning or demands of accountability from Congress “nearly 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $22,350 a year for a family of four” according to statistics from 2010 by the National Center for Children in Poverty.6 While the Federal Reserve has been pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banks through the Troubled Assets Relief Program (or TARP)7 and Quantitative Easing (or QE1, QE2, QE3 8) the lobbyist-led corporate-captured U.S. Congress wrote tax laws resulting in thirty of the country’s largest corporations paying no taxes at all amounting to over $78 billion in lost revenue9. Record numbers of foreclosures10 across the country forced millions of homeowners into the streets11 as part of the growing number of formerly middle-class families joining record numbers of homeless citizens.12 On top of all this the unemployment rate in the U.S. remains close to 9% with the Black/African-American segment over 15% and the Latino/Hispanic segment over 12%13 while corporations are posting record profits totaling over $824.5 billion. 14

The incredible amounts of resources that have been used to wage war abroad and to wage economic warfare on our people at home over the last decade is absolutely astounding. During the recent Presidential election debates poverty was hardly mentioned, what Tavis Smiley calls “the Side Streets of the country: people of color and the poor.”15 So many new laws our state and federal governments have passed these last few years have benefitted the only the wealthy and the privileged and have left Side Street America in the lurch, jobless, homeless, and indebted, indebted so much so that “student loan debt has surpassed total credit card debt in the U.S. … [totaling] more than $1 trillion.”16

Dr. King said in 1964, “We now have the resources to get rid of” poverty in America and we still do today. And now he would demand we look at our current economic situation with a new moral clarity and refocus our national principles. In the Riverside Church speech Dr. King explained, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Not since the robber barons of the early 20th century has our nation experienced so much economic inequality. Our systems of governance and social structures have massively failed a great majority of our citizens where the average CEO now makes nearly four hundred times that of their average worker17 while the bottom fifth have actually seen a decrease in their real wages.18 We must redouble our efforts to bring about real change to address this massive inequality. Numerous protests, petitions, strikes and other civil disobedience actions have not shaken the power edifice in any meaningful way. Until we have a critical mass of protest nothing much will change. Today we should all commit ourselves to bringing about that critical mass. If Dr. King was alive today he would be leading this struggle. Who will be the new leader of our time?


  1. - U.S. Military Spending 1962-2010 “The Growth of US Military Spending Over the Years” Inflation Adjusted Military Spending 1964: $367,569,000,000
  2. - Riverside Church, New York City, on April 4, 1967 - Martin Luther King's Speech Against the Vietnam War
  3. Congressional Budget Office -
    “H.R. 4310 would authorize appropriations totaling $637 billion for fiscal year 2013.”
  4. Huffington Post - Military Spending Waste: Up To $60 Billion In Iraq, Afghanistan War Funds Lost To Poor Planning, Oversight, Fraud -
  5. The White House – Obama’s Signing Statement
    "I have approved this annual defense authorization legislation, as I have in previous years, because it authorizes essential support for service members and their families, renews vital national security programs, and helps ensure that the United States will continue to have the strongest military in the world."
  6. National Center for Children in Poverty -
    2010 Statistics: Nearly 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $22,350 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 44% of children live in low-income families.
  7. Wiki - TARP “authorized to $475 billion.”
  8. Wiki – Quantitative Easing -
  9. Citizens for Tax Justice
    Corporations that paid no federal taxes “30 of the companies paid no net federal income tax from 2008 through 2010. … all but four of the 30 companies remained in the no-federal-income-tax category over the 2008-11period. …. Had these 30 companies paid the full 35 percent corporate tax rate over the 2008-11 period, they would have paid $78.3 billion more in federal income taxes. Or put another way, over the four years, the 30 companies received more than $78 billion in total tax subsidies.”
  10. - Foreclosures in 2011 to break last year's record: RealtyTrac -
  11. National Coalition for the Homeless - Foreclosure to Homelessness: The Forgotten Victims of the Subprime Crisis -
  12. Alternet - Homelessness Is at Record Highs: Let's Show Some Real Compassion -
  13. Wall Street Journal - Unemployment Rate for Demographic Groups; Source: Labor Department -
  14. Huffington Post - Fortune 500 Companies Made Record $824 Billion Profit In 2011 -; Fortune 500 2011 rankings – CNN Money -
  15. - Tavis Smiley and Obama’s Accountability [VIDEO] -
  16. Consumer Reports - U.S. Student loan debt set to hit $1 trillion; already outpaces national credit card debt -
  17. - CEO-to-Worker Pay Gap -
  18. Income inequality - “Between 1979 and 2009, the top 5 percent of American families saw their real incomes increase 72.7 percent, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 7.4 percent.”

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