Stewart Acuff

Jan 17

Dr. King and the “Poor People’s Campaign”

I’ve been on several long, in depth national and local radio interviews this week. Of course, one of the most fun and most interesting was on Atlanta Pacifica public radio WRFG which I listened to regularly and appeared on regularly the 15 years I was in Atlanta.

I was on labor’s show, Labor Beat, with Teamster organizer Ben Speight. Ben asked me the best question of the week,”With our nation inaugurating our first African-American president for his second term, how would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr assess the progress we’ve made since his death?”

Of course, I don’t know, but I have some thoughts.

I think Dr. King would be very proud of the progress though still very much unfinished, toward some form of racial justice and political involvement and empowerment of African-Americans.

But Dr. King would be, in my opinion, more than dissatisfied, saddened, by the 35 year unrelenting assault on working folks of all races and the still growing inequality in our economy.

We all know that the ranks of the poor are growing, the middle class is squeezed and shrinking, the wealth of the already filthy rich is exploding.

Dr. King would see that women still don’t have equal pay, that workers’ wages have been stagnant for 35 years, and that the prison population has exploded by 800% since the financial assault on workers began. If he were alive, he would see that there has been an unmitigated assault on workers’ rights and unions.

As we’ve said in this space before Dr. King was focused on economic justice, eliminating poverty, and creating peace when he was assassinated in 1968.

When Dr. King was drawn into the justice struggle of Memphis’ sanitation workers he was earnestly working to build a “Poor People’s Campaign.” That is how and why he went to Memphis in the first place and stayed through weeks of the strike, anticipated his own death, and was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Yes, Dr. King anticipated and prophesied his coming death at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ at the mass meeting on the night of April 3.

That was the speech in which he said and I paraphrase, I’d like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’ve been to the mountaintop. I may not get there with you, but we as a People will get there.

Google that speech. It will chill and inspire you all at the same time.

For those of us in the labor movement, we’d do well to also remember Rev. James Orange this week and weekend. Rev. Orange was a giant both literally and figuratively. I worked with and was best friends with “the Leader” for 15 years. Rev. Orange was one of Dr. King’s closest, inside circle staff and organizers. Rev became a union organizer in 1977 and led the fight for a national holiday for Dr. King.

My sisters and brothers and friends, let us not let the Financial Elite and our own despair paralyze us to the never-ending struggle for justice – economic, social and racial. Let us take the feeling Dr. King must’ve felt on the night of April 3 as he foresaw his own death and turn it into a flaming desire, commitment, action, struggle for the justice Dr. King committed himself to and gave his life for.

“Hey Leader, come on now. We gotta move,” as I heard Rev. Orange say thousands and thousands of times. Time to move!!!

Photo source: ChellieL on Flickr via Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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