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Defending the 1 Percent

12:07 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

I support the 1 percent.

It is time in the United States they become a part of our “radical revolution of values.”

Woman panhandling in front of fashion store.

Speaking up for the suffering of our poorest.

I am talking of course of the bottom 1 percent of Americans who live on less than $2 a day. In a world where a list of the top 400 richest Americans can be considered newsworthy, it is high time to give more time to the poorest of Americans who have to suffer as their wealth is stolen by those at top. They cannot be ignored.

This group of Americans, who live on income that is difficult for many people to imagine, is in “extreme poverty.” In 1996, they were just 1.7 percent of all households. In mid-2011, the number rose to 4 percent or a growth rate of 159 percent.

A study conducted by the National Poverty Center, specifically researchers Kathyrn Edin and Luke Shaefer, earlier this year on the other 1 percent stated “1.65 million households with 3.55 million children were living in extreme poverty in a given month.” One disturbing part of the study was how the “Great Recession” affected those in extreme poverty:

[A] rise in the number of households experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment may have also led to a rise in the number of households surviving on virtually nothing. (Emphasis mine)

Let’s briefly pause at this moment to reflect on what we understand so far. When we hear the words “virtually nothing”, what comes to mind?

Surely, we, as a society, have to reach a point where we must criticize what our system so much that it must be abolished. Existence of “bullshit jobs,” as London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber placed it, is directly connected to the problem of such individuals in our society living with “virtually nothing.” But let’s return to the study.

The report notes “assistant programs” for those in poverty has slowed down the overall rate, though notes the rise of poverty highlights how weak the social safety net is for Americans.

It is clear that our current major safety-net programs are playing a vital role at the very bottom, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and are blunting some of the hardship that these households would otherwise face. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the U.S. safety net is strong, or even adequate, when the number and proportion of households with children surviving on less than $2 per day has risen so dramatically over the past 15 years, even after accounting for means-tested transfers

The authors note a major turning point in the 1990s was the signing of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996″ or the “welfare reform” law as the authors placed it. It changed the system from a “need-based” program to a “block grant” program that was easily manipulated by states for their own use. As they elaborated:

[C]ash assistance caseloads have fallen from 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.5 million in December 2011, and only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults. Even during the current period of continued high unemployment, the cash assistance rolls have increased only slightly. ‘Welfare’, in the form of cash assistance, is a shell of its former self.

The signing of the 1996 law was not the fault of Republicans only, but of the Democrats as well. Historian Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States:

The aim of the welfare cuts was to save $50 billion over a five-year period (less than the cost of a planned new generation of fighter planes). Even the New York Times, a supporter of Clinton during the election, said that the provisions of the new law “have nothing to do with creating work but everything to do with balancing the budget by cutting programs for the poor.”

Last year, a New York Times/CBS News poll found “two-thirds of registered voters” viewed him favorably while a whopping 91 percent of Democrats have a “favorable” view of him. This was an individual who remarked the “era of big government was over“, so it is peculiar Democrats would support an individual like Clinton.

There is a section in this study that speaks volumes about the issue of “extreme poverty.” Indeed, the study reports there is an increase of “disconnected” mothers — those with “neither earnings nor welfare” — and experience “multiple barriers to work such as learning disabilities, physical limitations, few work skills, and mental health problems.” The researchers found:

Read the rest of this entry →

The Forgotten Living Casualties of War

3:50 pm in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

I’m certain there have been an astounding number of articles on Syria from the time I write this in its draft to the time I release this article. However, from reading all of the great and not-so-great articles on Syria, I can’t help but think of the one of the casualties of war that walk around us today — veterans.

Right now, there are arguments being made whether or not Syria should be bombed as a result of alleged chemical weapon usage. My confusion is whether it would appropriate to finance another war when we already have a significant problem with veterans here at home who deserve as much attention as we give to the story on Syria, even more I would argue.

United States of America, Department of Veterans Affairs badge at Calverton National Cemetery main entrance

Department of Veterans Affairs

The United States has not had time to recover from its Iraq and Afghanistan War quagmires, yet is interested on whether or not to go to war in Syria. It’s ridiculous and continues to avoid individuals here at home that at least deserve our attention.

I can’t help but remember a letter that US veteran Daniel Somers wrote before he committed suicide. He touched the hearts of many who understood there was a continuing problem that needed to be address. Re-reading it right now, I am confused as to why these individuals shouldn’t get quality treatment for anything free of charge:

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.

Additionally, Somers wrote that he was “made to participate” in “crimes against humanity.” He then added:

To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

Since 2001, more than 3,000 “active-duty troops” have committed suicide and, according to a 2012 Department of Veteran’s Affairs report, 8,000 veterans committed suicide last year. That means that there were 22 veterans who committed suicide every day. Still, the government advocates on behalf of war since the world has become a battlefield.

Despite the government’s aggressive action to help them, veterans still do not feel the government is helping them out. Even worse, as Huffington Post’s David Wood points out, suicide rates for military ranks are now going to past civilian rates, which is an unusual occurrence.

2013 survey of members in the organization known as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found figures that further merits discussion on the issue. The studies features a few figures which I have highlighted:

80% of respondents believe the Congress does not listen enough to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
66% of respondents believe the President does not listen enough to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
16% of respondents are unemployed
45% of those unemployed have been so for more than one year
63% of respondents feel their veteran friends require care for their mental health
30% thought of taking their own lives
45% know someone who has
80% of respondents do not feel veterans are “getting the care they need for mental health injuries”

Tom Tarantino, a “chief policy officer” of IAVA, talked to USA Today reporter Gregg Zoroya about the study and its significance regarding mental health:

“The fact that so many of our members know someone that has tried to commit suicide or that had mental health issues really underscores the seriousness of this problem,”

When there are calls for action to be taken without reviewing the consequences of such a war, it would be more than a mistake. It would be just plain wrong to suggest it as evident through Slate Magazine reporter William Saletan’s recent piece for a strike in Syria:

Pain isn’t a feel-good policy. It doesn’t have the glamor of liberating Iraq or ending the oppression of Afghan girls. But it’s achievable. Its unintended consequences, like its ambitions, are relatively modest. And it’s essential to civilization. If your neighborhood doesn’t have armed police who are willing to kill, thugs will take over.

Aside from the paragraph (and article) having numerous errors, the idea that it is “essential” to any civilization brings up an interesting question. Why is this more essential than solving the aftermaths of war? As author Ernest Hemingway once placed it,

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, no matter how justified, is not a crime.

The crime here is we feel it is necessary to play a game of “cops and individuals who cross red lines” rather than focusing our efforts into questioning why we need another war for two sides that are failures to their own people.

When President Obama spoke on August 31st about action in Syria, he was cautious as to not act so gung-ho about military action with numerous events across the world working against his favor. Rather, he played it safe: Read the rest of this entry →

50 Years Later: Why Dreams Still Matter

9:43 am in Uncategorized by BrandonJ

Where do we go from here? First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. – Doctor Martin Luther King Junior 

President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.

Today, thousands from across the country (and perhaps the globe) will venture in Washington D.C. on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King´s ¨March on Washington¨ that had 250,000 people in attendance. One might ask themselves, if they are unaware of the significance of this event, why marching still matters. It is indeed a question that is relevant and should be discussed.

When King marched in the 1960s, he marched with the idea of changing society and breaking down barriers (originally racial, but it became structural as he lived on). With protests, speeches, organizing, and other bold acts, the spirit of the 1960s was not of legislative change, but of those in the streets that drive such acts to be done.

Fifty years later, such spirit lives on in our society as our problems persist in old and new fashions.

When the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (the removal which is necessary to rally against), which gives power to the federal government to crack down on states that make ¨tests or devices¨for voters, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that:

Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,

Yes, the United States has changed since 1963, but not in the way that Roberts envisions.When Martin Luther King Junior made this statement on the Lincoln Memorial, his words were as relevant as ever:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement´s report, Operation Ghetto Storm, 313 black individuals were killed mostly by police in 2012 or one every 28 hours. Sixty six percent of those killed were between the age of 2 to 31. Moreover, only 13% of those killed were found by police to firing a weapon at them, appearing threatening was the main reason at 47%.

The entire case around Trayvon Martin and acquitting George Zimmerman without penalty is perhaps the best example (and alarming coincidental) that many will rally around today. It is a tragic case that cannot be given justice through words, but best exemplified by pictures of rallies that have happened before and will today.

But the racial discrimination does not end there. Yes, stop and frisk has been ruled ¨unconstitutional¨but the war is still not over. Remember, freedom is never given on a plate, it is fought for by the oppressed against the oppressor.

Take, for instance, calls for NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to be appointed as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. A known psychopath – who believes that stop and frisk worksspying on Muslims is okay, and thinks it is right to go after minorities to ¨instill fear¨ in them – should not be appointed nor be told be an ¨outstanding¨ candidate by a President that is as distrusting as Kelly is.

The reality is that the United States has changed since 1963 as a country into a more oppressed society where it is obvious that change is needed. As King placed it:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

Today is a moment that continues from 1963′s urgency. We are at a time where a myriad number of events go beyond the idea of racism that King would agree to act upon.

Wealth in the United States is at a point that rivals that of the Gilded Age where the rich in society do absolutely nothing while gaining significant wealth at the expense of the lower classes. Features of such inequality are a permanent feature of a system that allows a group to profit at the expense of the majority of the population. The top 1%, according to economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, have gained 121% since 2009!

And for those who are not among the rich, the thought of part-time is not a choice, but forced upon them. A 2013 Gallup poll showed one in five American workers working in part-time. With minimum wage so low, it is no wonder why workers in the fast-food industry, for instance, call for more strikes and a real change to their livelihoods. These are actions committed by individuals to preserve their lives and fight for their rights as people with problems that cannot be solved through charity.

For these few examples, it is no surprise that we see striking parallels of then and now. What is important is that we keep marching on as civil liberties are under the same attack as they were during King and, another pioneer, Malcolm X´s time.

Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years, while officials who have committed war crimes, lied to the public, killed Americans for their own riches are free in society to gain plenty and more. We now have a perfect example of believing our government protects our freedom, while, in reality, they attack the courage and bravery of a whistleblower who acted in good faith for the public. As King once remarked:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

We now know, because of Manning, myriad number of what governments around the world, especially the United States government, are doing against their people in the name of more power.

Edward Snowden, additionally, has shaken up the establishment so much so that the UK government, for instance, has been leaking documents to newspapers and detaining family members of journalists to almost charge them with terrorism. It is no surprise that much of what we see is a form of civil disobedience that the establishment always hated: whistleblowing. We must be reminded of the words by Malcolm X, a legendary and phenomenal human rights advocate in the 1960s:

I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.

Today, when we march, we invoke what King, X, all the others who were there had when the faced their struggles at the time. They had enough of the propaganda that said everything in America was great, that people should be obedient and never become a non-conformist.

With environment catastrophe, we are facing the same thing in our society. Scientists are doing their best to say that we should act now in order to stop it. They are right, we must act now as our future will be in grave crisis.

The Keystone XL pipeline, essentially a pipeline that goes through America while raising our gas prices, has ties that make it another bourgeois attempt to profit at the expense of us. Yet, we have failed to go against it as 67 percent of  Americans support the pipeline’s construction. Here are King’s words that make us ponder on what will happen if nothing is done:

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

There is more that I have forgotten to speak about such as the numerous abortion laws introduced restricting rights of women (and it doesn’t end there for women), services helping those who are mentally ill getting worse with cuts, and having our food be as unhealthy and common than before.  Yet, it is indicative of what our system is and what we must do. As King once remarked, “there is something wrong with capitalism” and it is our job to address it.

And what do we expect from today? We expect people angry, people with energy, people that demand change. A President who ran on a platform of change should not be trusted with anything as his record shows how much he defends the status quo.

But we should be careful of what is happening down there too. When King marched in 1963, he was not as radical with his words as he was when spoke up against the Vietnam War years later. Indeed, Malcolm X stated that while it was a ¨grassroots¨movement and a “revolution” when he went, he felt it was hijacked by ¨national Negro leaders¨ to cool off the movement on behalf of the national government:

This is what they did with the march on Washington. They joined it… became part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all. . .

We have much to learn from Malcolm as we do from King. We are not protesting in hope that Barack Obama and Congress gives the A-O.K. to change America, we are not protesting in hope that one good bill will make us feel better, we are protesting because it is time for change with or without those who want it.

Mistakes are being made among groups who emphasize only one issue or confusing what we need, as evident through the 40,000 environmentalists who marched earlier this year on Washington in hope that Obama will reject the Keystone XL pipeline. This is a waste of time and energy that could be geared to give people a real chance at having their voice heard.

It is important to act because as noted by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese there is a change happening in America and we need it to go against the current system we have in place. We are re-gaining our spirit from the 1960s in an important time of our lives. By sticking with both parties, we accept their failures and commit to inaction that we often fail to see.

Now, King and Malcolm are gone and we cannot continue to live in the past. We should not hope for a new King, a new Malcolm, a new leader to look up to. The reason is because we are the change we are expecting and it is time to act upon it.

Things are different now from then, but does that matter? We still have such feeling in our society that is shunned as the establishment tries to control our voice. We rallied together, with stark differences, in hope that we can make a dream happen for all of us.

It is important to say that dreams still matter. Indeed, those words that have inspired us through speeches, words, actions, photos and more can be defined in a few short sentences by poet Langston Hughes with the title “Harlem” (Alternatively “Lenox Avenue Mural”) :

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over- 
like a syrupy sweet? 

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. 

Or does it explode?

Should we wait until our world explodes along with our dreams? From today’s rally, you will be sure to say there it won’t happen as we move forward. Read the rest of this entry →