Only two weeks since JFK's assassination, Martin Luther King, met with President Lyndon Johnson. Dec. 6, 1963. Afterward, King spoke with reporters outside the White House.

Economic justice was part of MLK’s religion | Think Piece

5 mins read

Economic justice was the last major crusade that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launched in the United States before his assassination on April 4, 1968. Sixty years later, it is a critical campaign that we must re-launch.

This is beyond an appeal to our moral selves, but a sobering call to generations of those who slept through moments in which we should have manifested dreams beyond King’s visions.

Since King’s death, it could have occurred in the passage of multiple legislation and the concerted effort to shift the thought and action of those who wield the most power by virtue of skin tone and penis (in most, but not all cases; hence the 53 percent). In fact, abolishing the complete bondage of some could have freed us all. However, we failed repeatedly, and for some joyously.

But, here we are.

We allowed the insidiousness of racism and delusions of power and privilege for a select demographic to stymie a current reality — the continued economic depravity for those with the least political and social currency in this country during the 1960s, has resulted in most of us sitting in economic fragility, as well as political instability.

Today, in Los Angeles, teachers strike for better working conditions and a redirection of LA school district’s money to more resources for students and better pay. At universities across the country, the working class of academia—adjunct professors—protest for livable wages as they comprise of up to 70 percent of university instructors. By the day, unions lose their bargaining power. Included to an increase of job loss, job availability, along with the dollar and markets weaken.

Unsettling is that we have not even touched racist policing, mass incarceration, student loan debt, the dwindling quality of healthcare and insurance, or the almost one million federal workers who have lost a month of wages now that the partial federal government shutdown is on day 31. Many of these people are going to food shelters or finding ad-hoc, temporary employment to hopefully make ends meet.

With the current president, Donald Trump, using the federal budget as a pawn to wage war against legislators who reject his insistence to build a border wall that is at least, fiscally and logistically irresponsible, while using inherently racist rhetoric to stoke fear, places us in similar circumstances as King saw it so many years ago.

Civil Rights Redux

Following King’s assassination, for six weeks, over 3,000 people from across the nation, set up tents at the Mall in Washington DC. The name of the site was “Resurrection City.”

In the updated version of Civil Rights movement, King did not emphasize wearing suits to show Black respectability to the media. He dealt with the shocking conditions of many Americans that he saw in his travels throughout the US. Too many dwelled in the most dire financial conditions and were invisible in national debates on the direction of the country.

At a May 1967 conference retreat, when expressing his reasons to shift a Civil Rights focus to emphasize class and, in many ways, how class intersected with other social positions including race, King said the following:

I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement…That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution…In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.

Now, it is a glaring fact that we have become stuck in an insidious racialized hierarchy due to our inability to agree on the basic needs of citizens—such as a livable wage, affordable housing, clean water and food, and equitable education along with a society that celebrates racial differences rather than exist in continued passive aggressive liberal public faces.

To celebrate or selfie post on King’s holiday

For years after the death of King, a good lot of us who dare to get out of the house on our day off, attend poorly planned breakfasts by elders of the church who can barely walk or slip into a celebration given by an almost defunct civic organization, in which we throw them a $20 bill for a bi-annual tithe.

In the age of the digital and self-regulation, we post King’s quotes on our social media handles or take selfies at a “feed the homeless” event for temporary feel goods. We make sure to like tweets by Senator Cory Booker or Barack Obama for political correctness and visibility on an impressive timeline. Perhaps, we play Nina Simone or Simon and Garfunkel to appease our moral senses as we twerk to a King speech mixed by DJ Osunlade.

We just might say “fuck you” to a MAGA person or shake our head and tsk tsk while humming to the tune of Rachel Maddow or Joy Ann Reid, but tomorrow, we’ll get up as usual, and step over or pass a homeless person as if MLK Day was the only day for humane acts of caring.

Nonetheless, chickens are roosting, on a poorly constructed White House that sits on the bones, blood and backs of Black people who built this country and Natives whose land were stolen. Hundreds of years into the founding of the US, the first who were disenfranchised still remain the poorest and subjugated.

While the rest of America attempts to cash the blank check King so eloquently explained in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, today, Black folk hold a deactivated EBT card. Our numbers in low-wealth compete for the top spots with rent and racism compete.

Rather, we balk at Natives forced to relocate and now live on land stolen by mocking their demonstrations. Hence the recent MAGA hat wearing teen attempting to intimidate Nathan Phillips, a Native war hero participating in the Indigenous Peoples March on the Washington DC mall.

We consider protests and concerns by Black folk passé and exhausting. Moreover, the invisibility of women, especially women of color, whose lives never mattered as much as white men, are lost in online battles explaining and justifying #metoo. At the same time, we turn our heads as private corporations exchange their profit of prisoners to filling their coffers by incarcerating undocumented immigrants.


All the while, Trump sits unscathed and almost untouchable, though it seems, many try to take it down. He is this country’s R. Kelly; however, Kelly’s lack of wealth and status pales in comparison. It has been documented that Trump has violated a slew of people since the 70s, but sits protected in an international ecosystem of people who use corporations and muscle that shield his wealth, safety, unethical business practices and ideologies.

Early in Trump’s career, he saw that his power and privilege remain intact when others do his dirty work. One of the ways in which it translates is that he feeds the largest base of his well-oiled machine the lies that they too are safeguarded, powerful and positioned to be wealthy. But like so many in the past who operated as Trump’s gatekeepers, they too, like those they assisted in excluding and persecuting, will stand in the soup kitchen line.

In Bob Marley’s melody, “So Much to Say,” he sends a warning to all people: “Remember that, when the rain fall, it don’t fall on one man’s housetop.” From finances to moral codes, we stand at the precipice of a collapse that is irreversible, and I hope we are getting all of our affairs in order because every household will be affected. We already are experiencing the backdraft of acquiescence and immobility.

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Kaia Shivers covers diaspora and features.

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