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Jobs are Freedom

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‘Abdu’l-Baha , Head of the Baha’i Faith (1892-1921), wrote:

“Until the nerves and arteries of the nation stir into life, every measure that is attempted will prove vain; for the people are as the human body, and determination and the will to struggle are as the soul, and a soulless body does not move.”

After many years, a memorial to an American who stirred this nation to life has emerged on the National Mall. The first dedicated to an African American, the memorial to civil rights martyr Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has generated considerable emotion and reflection. Recent visitors since it was opened to the public have described it as holy ground. Paul Raushenbush of the Huffington Post sees the memorial as embodying King’s theology. Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. of Princeton calls on visitors, particularly African Americans, to remember their dead, such as Emmet Till, when visiting the memorial. Professor Cornel West, also of Princeton, describes the apocalyptic warnings of a King concerned America “might go to hell owing to its economic injustice, cultural decay and political paralysis.”

For some, the significance of the memorial is as a reminder of King’s dedication to economic justice. Algernon Austin, Director of Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, reminds us that the March on Washington was for jobs and freedom and that King was assassinated while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee. King called for an economic bill of rights that would guarantee employment to those who wanted it, organized a “Poor People’s Campaign” and identified the labor movement as being as important as the Civil Rights movement.

With an unemployment rate still at 9.1 percent and some projecting that we will not achieve full employment until 2017, King would probably agree that the jobs crisis is our most pressing national issue. King would also likely be appalled that the burden of unemployment continues to be distributed according to race. Black unemployment is at 16.2 percent, while white unemployment is at 8 percent.

While people throughout the Middle East celebrate a much deserved “Arab Spring,” for too many it remains winter in America. The King memorial should remind us that for those out of work, jobs are freedom. It should move us to take collective action to make sure both industry and government do what is necessary to get people back to work and that workers are paid a fair and livable wage. As King wrote in one of his sermons:

The dispossessed of this nation…live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against structures through which the society is refusing to take means which…are at hand…There are millions of…people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, the will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.

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About Phillipe Copeland

  • John Lake

    While appearing to praise and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, a martyr, and one inspired by the Creator, the article above seems to contain some virus of sorts in sharp contrast to Dr. King’s legacy.
    The crisis of unemployment among the black population has lately been publicized, notable by Representative Waters and the Black Caucus. Unemployment places yet an additional burden on blacks.
    It is unfair to suggest that this burden is unnoticed. Urban, state, and federal politicians are adamant in their insistence on continued educational opportunities for all Americans, for all persons. Like the populist soldiers of the north, during the civil war, these politicians are fighting daily for justice sake, and for the sake of children of all backgrounds, that these children may go unfettered to school, on to college. It is unfortunate that some in the black community chose to force insensitivity on their children, and refuse to work with the school system. As quoted in the article, “Until the nerves and arteries of the nation stir into life, every measure that is attempted will prove vain…”

    In the New York Times link, Professor West compares the black employment problem with inequities in “prison industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown ghettos.”
    Mention of these inequities will fall on deaf ears until the black community accepts responsibility for violent youths who become violent adults. But black unemployment is a separate matter. Unemployment is a problem in all strata of society. Many good politicians are working hard to eliminate black unemployment, and of course unemployment in general. It is reasonable and acceptable for Rep. Waters and the Caucus (and the black population) to churn up the congressional seas; the squeaking wheel gets the grease.

    West also writes that, “Poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.” It is true, particularly is this ill-fated new era of power from the people and to the corporations, that some in Washington are as he says avaricious, and indifferent. But they are still a minority.

    At this point in the article Mr. Copeland states that “[Dr. M.L.] King would also likely be appalled that the burden of unemployment continues to be distributed according to race.” If Dr. King were brought to the belief that the indifference was universal, the dedication of some to end injustices non-existent, and that these injustices were the overriding cause of the burden, he would likely be appalled.

    Then Copland alludes to the “Arab spring”. The Arab spring included rebellion by less than passive means in the streets. It entailed a violent overthrow of the governments. We wonder then, is the thrust of Mr. Copeland divided, praising King on the one hand, and suggesting an alternative to “passive resistance”’ on the other?

    If Copland covertly and subtly believes the time for departure from King’s ideals is at hand, he is wrong. We hold that the answer remains two-fold: end the forced de-sensitization of children in some black homes, and determine that families will work with educators. These educators are trained and dedicated, and deserve to be allowed. The point of both the article and the link to Professor West share a common truth. Kings plan, which seemed so removed from things that seemed obvious, actually worked. It is working. If the folks in London are downtrodden by the smug and poo-poo British, the folks in America are more fortunate. This is not the time nor the occasion to alter King’s plan.

  • Your’re painting a rosy picture, John. Cornel West was interviewed by Amy Goodman in connection with his poverty bus-tour, and he was chastising the president for not addressing the problem of poverty directly, the public speeches address only the middle class, even a candidate alternative to Obama was being considered in order to shake the administration up. It’s not enough if Bernie Sanders and Maxine Waters are the only voices in the wilderness. They are, contrary as you imagine, the minority. The white America doesn’t give a damn about the poor — today’s “invisibles,” I call them, not when its own economic future is on the line, which of course it is. The recent budget wars is a clear indication of that. I don’t see how can you possibly interpret it any other way.

    You’re also off the mark when you separate problems of “crime” (violent youths, you call it) from those of poverty, joblessness and lack of education. They’re all interconnected and, together, they form a culture of poverty.

    The invisibles are not represented in our political system. It’s not “good politics” at the stage we’re in. Except for solitary voices, they have no real champion to represent their interests, to have their voices heard. That’s the first order of business if we’re to revamp our stale and business-as-usual state of affairs in Washington and states-wide.

    You say allusion to the Arab spring is inappropriate. It’s very appropriate under the circumstances. I’m not advocating violence, but people must rise up and speak out if there’s no one to speak on their behalf. The recent movement in Wisconsin is an example of that — however little attention it received in the media — and these were middle class folks. How much harder do the poor must work, how much more difficult the road ahead, in order to receive similar recognition and to bring the nation’s attention to this problem?

    You’re speaking of Dr. King’s non-violent means, but you’re forgetting that the road to victory was paved by sporadic eruption of violence — the Harlem riots, the Black Panther, Angela Davis, Malcolm X.

  • John Lake

    In order to link joblessness to disproportionate use of prisons, and crime, we need to include as a catalyst, poverty. However the current unemployment being considered in not so much that deriving from poverty, but rather middle class black unemployment. So the link is not so valid.

    While the conservatives give nary-a-crap to the poor, the liberals, the Democrats, the administration, are fighting tooth and nail for entitlements; hardly a deaf ear.

    There may or may not be a case for bottle and rock throwing, but the commemoration of Dr. King is hardly the right time to make it.

  • Disproportionate use of prisons and crime is mostly drugs-related and “small shit.” There has always been “profiling,” before the term was invented and after.

    If there was a substantial black middle class in America, it’s certainly dwindling. Neither a $10.00 per hour jobs or four grand in total assets doesn’t make “middle class.”

    Unemployment benefits and food stamps aren’t entitlements. It’s a safety net. So no, even Dems, with the noted exception, don’t address the problems of poverty. It’s an inconvenient truth.

    Traditions are meant to be broken, or used as platforms for further action, so no, I don’t think Dr. King’s memory is being dishonored in any outrageous way.

  • John Lake

    The middle class educated black population is increasing. I never cared for the term ‘entitlements’ except in the case of social security. The safety net is far less expensive than military expansionism, or pointless exploration of outer space.
    Democrats address schooling and scholarships daily, these being the answer to poverty. Drug use is decreasing, and the voters in California turned down the opportunity to sell and use pot.
    It might be a time to rally against corporate over-representation, but joblessness is not being caused by indifference.

  • Right, it’s great times we’re living in.

    I’m looking with anticipation for tomorrow.

  • thanks to everyone for offering their thoughts. John I’m not sure where you get the idea that blacks do not take responsibility for their “violent” youth as you say. This is similar to the idea that Muslims don’t speak up enough about terrorism. It is an unfounded comment. You might want to see the film “The Interrupters” as an example. Also the idea that the violence in question is because of poor parenting is simplistic at best. Family and culture matter but they are not the only variables as argued eloquently in William Julius Wilson’s book “More Than Race”. Second, incarceration rates among blacks are largely driven by drug-related offenses and not violent crimes. As for the Arab Spring, like the Civil Rights movement it was largely non-violent until recently when it turned from street protests to actual armed struggle, so far only in a few places. While King would not have supported armed resistance as a tactic, the kind of revolution he was calling for, like the Arab Spring is about fundamental transformation of our social, economic and political system. Referencing the Arab Spring is hardly advocating violence which you seem to be implying. It is about the spirit of the uprisings, about people saying they will not accept the status quo anymore. We could use more of the spirit in the U.S. regarding economic injustice of which our current jobs crisis is but one example.

  • Another thing John, saying that more needs to be done about jobs, which I think Kind would strongly advocate does not imply that no one is already doing anything. The very CBC leaders you referred to are actually saying that not enough is being done just as I am. The question is, is it enough. At this point, few would claim that it is enough, white or black, liberal or conservative. For example, King advocated specifically for public works projects similar to FDR’s and massive government spending to put people back to work. This is not happening and is not likely to happen in the current political climate which is focused on spending cuts and deficit reduction. This could change but it may still be insufficient is there is not political will and willingness to work together to get it done. Just like in King’s time government and industry will need to feel pressure from consumers and citizens in order to do what’s necessary to change this situation. This would involve a massive mobilization, a movement to get it done.

  • John Lake

    The only point I might make relates to your mention that the answer being ‘parenting’ is simplistic. The black situation has derived from generations of prejudice and unfair treatment. Grandparents who were harassed in early education, not only by students, but by teachers, may have given up on school, finding it intolerable. They found themselves in the streets, exposed to drugs, alcohol, crime, and gangs. If they gave in to the drugs, or the alcohol, their children were the ones to suffer. These children may have been ignored, or allowed to stay at home, thus taking the separation to another generation.
    But now in the 21st century we see real progress. All aspects of racial inequity are improving. Racial blindness is the order of the day, in cities, and in many small towns and remote areas.

  • Arch Conservative

    Why is it that I get the sneaking suspicion that your use of the phrase “economic justice” is just a euphemism for “social justice” Phillipe?

    History has shown us what those whose approach to economics is social justice can do and their actions serve no one and nothing save their own incomprehensibly substantial egos.

  • Igor

    One supposes that ¨Economic Justice¨ would mean that the leaders and CEOs who caused the current economic malaise would suffer the consequences, lose their homes, lose their jobs and bonuses, and even be sent to jail for various frauds, while the most innocent low-level workers, who worked diligently and well, who upgraded skills on their own resources, and often sacrifice personal enjoyments, would be protected.

    But that´s not what happened. The bozos who screwed up survived to collect even bigger bonuses while the least influential suffered the most.

    It appears that we have a system that is based thoroughly on injustice and rewards naked power most over all else.

    And it appears to be getting worse: 20 years ago the S&L scandal resulted in over 1000 bankers going to jail, but how many in the current financial failures and scandals? Can you name one?

    Paradoxically, the poor and powerless will swell our prisons as, in their desperation, they get 17 years hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families.