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MLK Day Message: the Power of the People can be Stronger than the Power of Money (InZane Times)

Dr Martin Luther King

I was honored once again to be invited to offer the “community update” at Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast.  Here’s what I said on January 19 at the Alpine Grove in Hollis:

Honor and pleasure to be invited back. Thanks to Irving, Linda, Ray, and Governor Hassan. And congratulations to OBU for the 31st annual breakfast.

I want to begin by saying a few words about inequality, and I’ve learned that a trick to effective public speaking is to tell people stuff that they already know.

We know that for most families, most workers, most ordinary people, take home pay has been stagnant since the 1970s, two generations.

At the same time we know that the rich are getting richer.

The ultra rich are getting ultra richer.

The mega rich are getting mega richer.

And the giga rich are getting giga richer.

This has caused economic inequality to rise to record levels.

And we know that when race is added to the equation the situation is even more unequal. Net worth of white families is five times that of black families.

I think we know what Dr. King would say about that. He would say,

“The misuse of capitalism can lead to tragic exploitation.”

We know what Martin Luther King would do because we know what he did. We know what he was doing at the time he was killed. He was supporting working people in a strike for dignity in the workplace and calling on the federal government to take sides with the locked out, the cast out and the left out.

What else do we know?

We know that fifty years ago at this time Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were engaged in a dramatic campaign in Selma Alabama to win the right to vote for Black people who had been denied their rights.

We know that after marches, arrests, beatings, and several murders of voting rights activists that the Congress approved the Voting Rights Act. At last it became possible for African Americans to use the ballot to elect people who would respond to their interests.

What’s the state of voting rights now? It’s not good.

We know that in state after state – including New Hampshire – legislatures have adopted laws like photo ID requirements and other restrictions that make it harder for people to vote when we ought to be making it easier.

We know that the US Supreme Court struck down an essential element of the Voting Rights Act.

And we know that five years ago this Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that since corporations are people (really) and money is speech (yup), that restricting the ability of corporations to invest their money in the electoral system violates the first amendment protection of free speech. This widened the gates for floods of corporate cash into our electoral system. Instead of one person one vote we are getting a one dollar one vote democracy.

We know what Dr. King would say, something like, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are going to be a truly great nation you must solve this problem.”

I want to suggest a couple ways we can help solve this problem.

First, at the State House this year there will be a mighty fight over the state budget. The question our lawmakers will face is whether they will protect the interests of the well off or take the side of the locked out, the left out, the least of these. They will also consider a range of bills dealing with voting rights, some to make it harder to vote, some to make it easier, and some to reduce the influence of money in our elections.

You may have heard about a group in North Carolina, headed by Rev. Dr. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, that brings a prayerful presence into their state capitol every week. They call it “Moral Mondays.

We’ve got a group like that here. We call ourselves “New Hampshire Voices of Faith.” Mondays are pretty quiet up in Concord, so we’re more likely to show up for “Witnessing Wednesdays,” bringing a multi-faith, prayerful presence for justice into the State House. We’ll be calling on our lawmakers to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Look for us on Facebook at NH Voices of Faith. And if you are not receiving my weekly “State House Watch” newsletter by email, let me know and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

But we’ve got another big opportunity, one that comes around every four years.

New Hampshire has the eyes of the world on us because of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. The candidates are already among us. You might need to set some extra tables for next year’s breakfast. That means we’ve got the opportunity – and with that the responsibility – to let them know what’s on our minds. As Governor Hassan said, “democracy is not an every other year sport.”

At the American Friends Service Committee, we’ve got a new project we call “Governing Under the Influence.” It’s about the excessive power in the hands of big corporations – corporations that profit from violence, corporations that profit from prisons, corporations that profit from war. It’s about demanding that the democracy believe in is rooted in the one person, one vote principle, not in rule by those with the most money. We’ll be keeping track of the candidates’ whereabouts. Get in touch if you want to get involved.

But by all means use every opportunity to tell the presidential wannabes what is on your mind.

We who lift up the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. know that the struggle can be hard. We know the struggle can be long, but that ultimately we have faith that the power of the people can be stronger than the power of money, that justice can prevail over injustice, that love can prevail over hate.

Will we let anybody turn us around?

Equality Is Still An Issue For African-Americans 50 Years After The March On Washington

Fifty years after the March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told the nation about his dream of racial justice, are we ready to sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual he quoted, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last”?

After all, Jim Crow segregation has been vanquished. The 1964 prediction – in capital letters no less – by the publisher of the Union Leader that passage of the Civil Rights Act would “PRACTICALLY MEAN THE END OF THE TOURIST BUSINESS IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, LAKES REGION AND BEACHES” proved to be unfounded.

Signs at New Hampshire’s grand hotels that once read “No Negroes, Jews, or Dogs” are long gone. “Whites only” signs are found only in museums. Not only that, civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations have been extended to people with disabilities and, in many states, to lesbians and gays. We’ve clearly made historic progress.

But before we declare this a “post-racial” era and start singing “We Have Overcome,” let’s take a closer look. Empirical data shows that black Americans still carry an undue burden of inequities in wealth, employment and the criminal justice system.

The occasion for the 1963 march was the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the occupied South. “One hundred years later,” King said, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”

On the 150th anniversary of emancipation, the statistics are still pretty stark.

For example, as unemployment rates fluctuate, the black unemployment rate is consistently twice the white rate. That’s one of the factors behind a February 2013 Brandeis University report that the wealth gap between white and black families tripled from 1984 to 2009.

“Our analysis found little evidence to support common perceptions about what underlies the ability to build wealth, including the notion that personal attributes and behavioral choices are key pieces of the equation.”

“Instead,” wrote the authors, from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, “the evidence points to policy and the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools, and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life.”

For another way to look at the same numbers, take a look at the 2013 State of the Dream report from United for a Fair Economy. They say that in 2010, the most recent year for which they had statistics, “white families held on average more than six times as much net wealth as Black families and nearly six times as much as Latino families.” Moreover, families of color were harder hit in the wealth department by the recent recession than their white counterparts.

Take another issue: incarceration rates. According to an analysis by The Sentencing Project, 38 percent of people in state or federal prisons in 2011 were black, 35 percent were white, and 2 percent were Hispanic. One in every 13 black males ages 30 to 34 was in prison in 2011, as were 1 in 36 Hispanic males, compared to 1 in 90 white males in the same age group.

Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a 6 percent chance. The rate of black incarceration is so high, and the legal consequences for felons so severe, that scholars such as Michelle Alexander have labeled the phenomenon as “the new Jim Crow.”

We may in fact have risen from the “dark and desolate valley of segregation,” but we are still miles away from “the sunlit path of racial justice” described on that day in 1963.

So as we recall King’s soaring rhetoric five decades ago, let us renew our own commitment that we will never turn back until justice roars down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

***
Also posted in the Concord Monitor

New Cross-Post from INZANE Times: Inequality Matters

Inequality Matters

May 30, 2012 by aalpert
When Chuck Collins started United for a Fair Economy (originally called “Share the Wealth”) in the 1990s, some economists denied that economic inequality was growing.  That debate is over.  Speaking in Manchester May 29, Collins said the debate is now whether inequality matters and what can be done about it.
Here’s the short answer:P1000690
Inequality matters.
The trends which increased inequality are reversible.
We are in “a new period of extreme inequality,” Collins told more than 80 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester, and it’s “trashing all that we care about.”  It’s not jut that some people are poor and some are rich, but that the growing gap leads to a breakdown in social solidarity as the wealthy stop investing in the social infrastructure .  Our children, our health, our culture, our environment, and our democracy all suffer.  
Collins outlines the problem and some solutions in his new book, 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It.  The prescription has three basic components:  invest in opportunity, raise the floor, and tax wealthy people and the corporations they own.  
While the 99 to 1 framework is a tad simplistic, he said, trade and tax policies really have been changed to benefit the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.  
As the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer (yes, that Oscar Mayer), Collins knows a thing or two about the 1%, including his former schoolmate Mitt Romney.   In addition to development of creative educational techniques to demystify economic issues, Collins has also worked to find allies for change within the ranks of the wealthy. 
A Q&A session that could have gone on much longer touched off an important discussion about whether solutions can emerge from the existing political system.    Collins is not ready to throw out lobbying or electoral politics, but sees the greatest potential in social movements made up of small groups of like-minded people working together on common projects.  He reminded the audience that Gandhi based his program not only on mass nonviolent resistance but also on the “constructive program.”
“Exercise your democracy muscles each day,” he said.
Collins’ talk was sponsored by the UU Church of Manchester, the American Friends Service Committee, Granite State Priorities, Occupy Manchester, NH Citizens Alliance, and the Granite State Organizing Project.  
P1000687
Occupy activists posed with Chuck after the talk.

Closing the Wage Gap – Unions Fighting for All Workers

Today I came across a very interesting article. It talked about how men and women are still not paid equal wages. This is still somewhat disturbing to me. I am a generation X kid. Well, not really a kid anymore. I am only mentioning this because I grew up in time where equality had started to become the norm. At least I thought so. People from the generation prior to me were fighting for equal rights and equal wages. Not only between “whites” and “blacks” but between men and women too.  

American women who work full time, year round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This gap in earnings translates into $10,784 less per year in median earnings, leaving women and their families short changed. The wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender  are considered together, with African-American women making only 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act as well as other civil rights laws has helped to narrow the wage gap over time, it is  critical for women and their families that the significant pay disparities that remain are addressed. Link

I know that this struggle has been fought for many years.  One of the biggest proponents for equal pay for equal work have been labor unions.  Thats right, the same people who brought you the weekend have been working to make sure everyone gets paid equally and fairly.  Let me give you an example.

“Looking at full-time, year-round wages, the gap is smallest in Washington, D.C., where women earn 91 cents for every dollar men earn, and widest in Wyoming, where women earning just 64 cents for every dollar men earn. Link” 

http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/womenunfairpayfactsheet.pdf

There could be many reasons why the Washington DC is one of the places where men and women are paid equally and this is what I say. DC is filled with mostly Federal Employees. The majority of Federal Employees are covered by a union. The union mandates the equal pay for employees. The collective bargaining agreement does not say “pay a man X, and women shall make Y”. It says and employee shall be paid XYZ.

Please do not just believe me that unions are helping to close the wage gap between men and women.  Please look at these maps below. One is from the States with the biggest wage gap between men, women article.  The other is a picture of the current Right to Work states.  I have talked a lot about Right to Work states and what Right to Work really means.   Is it a coincidence that the places with the highest wage gap between men and women are also Right To Work states? If you add all the Gray Colored states with the Black Colored states you would have a majority of of the Right To Work states.

So as more and more states are pushing for Right To Work legislation remember that a strong union will help to close the wage gap while protecting your rights as a worker whether or not you are a member of a Union.  Unions fight for all workers and raise the standard of living for all!

(For more information on the wage gap check out the National Women’s Law Center Fact Sheet.)

http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/womenunfairpayfactsheet.pdf

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