Marian Wright Edelman on Dr. King's Call to Action


From Marian Wright Edelman writing over at the Huffington Post:

With the economy slipping into recession and more than 160,000 American fighting men and women in Iraq combat zones and no end to the war in sight, these are trying times for our nation. Unemployment, underemployment and poverty are afflicting more and more American families who face rising costs for food, health care, gas, heating oil and other expenses. Working families have been hit hard by the skyrocketing costs of sending their children to college and the subprime mortgage crisis while the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer. Almost 13 million children are poor, with 5.6 million living in extreme poverty. Since 2000, child poverty has increased by 10.7 percent. Currently 9.4 million children lack health insurance; nearly 90 percent of them live in working families. Over the past two years the number of uninsured children has increased by more than one million.
As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of his Poor People's Campaign for which I was privileged to serve as counsel and Congressional liaison, it's instructive to look back at what Dr. King has to tell us. In his sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968, the Sunday before his assassination, he warned us again of the triple threats of racism, excessive materialism and militarism, and called on our rich nation to end poverty.

He told the story of the rich man Dives and the poor man Lazarus and said Dives didn't go to hell because he was rich; he went to hell because he refused to see and help Lazarus. Dr. King feared America might make the same mistake and said our wealth could be our salvation or our downfall. He said the U.S. had the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is if we have the will.

"This," he said, "is America's opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.... There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will."

"In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor Peoples Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect...."

"We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.' But if a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists...."

"And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible."

"We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn't move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for Black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically, in terms of direct action."

Read the rest at the Huffington Post and discuss over there.


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