What Would Martin Do?

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by Joy Ellison

If Martin Luther King, Jr. could visit our country this January, he would see a nation much changed and yet the same.

Imagine King catching a bus in downtown Montgomery. Perhaps he would select a seat in the front, next to someone tired from a long day’s work for little pay.  Through the bus window, he might see dilapidated schools and foreclosed homes. If he were to open up a newspaper, he would read of another war with no end in sight.

If King returned to this country of sweet promise and bitter disappointment, he would once again take up the struggle of the poor.  King would organize against the interlocking evils of racism, militarism, and poverty. And he would invite us to join him.

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In the 43 years since King’s death, we have not fulfilled his dream of equality.  Poverty is rising. Health care is out of reach for too many Americans while our military budget grows.

Ours is a political landscape that King understood all too well.

In his speech Beyond Vietnam, King decried the way the war on poverty was abandoned for the war on communism.  Today we still choose fighter jets over unemployment benefits. The soldiers who fight and die in our army are still overwhelming our nation’s poor.

If he were here today, King would say again, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

King cried out for the poor of Vietnam recounting American’s role in their history.

“We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village,” he said. “We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon.”

Today, King would similarly mourn the poor people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would point out that we once supported the Taliban, the mujaheddin, and Saddam Hussein – over the protests of Iraqis and Afghanis.

We remain the enemy of the poor in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere our government supports the rights of corporations over the rights of poor people.

King wrote, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

But that world revolution is still alive today and brings hope even to our country.

In Iraq, Afghanistan, America, and around the world, millions of poor people are building a nonviolent movement for a peaceful, just future.

We should not need to Dr. King to entreat us to join the right side of the world revolution. The poor are calling us to join them.

Just as King heeded their call, may we see their cause as ours.

Joy Ellison of Chicago, Illinois, is the First Place winner from the Americans for Democratic Action “What Would Martin Do?” essay contest.


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