Today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: the one day of the year when many people across the nation take off school and work to remember and celebrate Dr. King and his work for racial justice and equality. However, too often, this day serves as merely a holiday from our “every-day activities” and maintains only a small “memory” of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many other unnamed faithful and courageous voices proclaimed and peacefully fought for in order to bring about an end to the Jim Crow racial segregation laws fifty years ago. Consequently, there tends to lack on this holiday a recognition of the racial and economic injustice that continues to persist throughout our society today and thus King’s unfinished work we are all called to continue to work for.
However, yesterday I had the opportunity to gather at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on the far South Side of Chicago with more than 2,000 people from all over the Chicago area who have not forgotten about the majority of this nation’s people who have still not seen Dr. King’s dream fully come true.
“We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the National Cathedral during his work on the Poor People’s Campaign – on March 31, 1968, a week before his assassination.
Organized by IIRON and The People’s Lobby, the event was called “Hope in the Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King’s Radical Vision for Economic Equality” and included a public meeting and a call to action by community and religious leaders, such as: Rev. Dwight Gardner, president of IIRON and pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Gary, IN; Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American; Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL; Jack Darin of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club; and Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church – among many others.
The meeting began with a congregational song led by a combined choir: “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…” and a call to action by Rev. Dwight Gardner, who proclaimed: “We must stand! We must stand together!” Throughout the meeting, several Chicago and Illinois elected officials were called up to the front of the sanctuary and asked to publicly agree to support legislation that would protect the common good.
Issues that were discussed included:
Increasing Revenue Rather than Cutting Programs that Help those Most in Need
Advancing Worker Justice: Creating Good Jobs that Don’t Exploit Workers
Environmental Protection: Stronger Regulations on Fracking
Ending the “New Jim Crow”: Mass Incarceration
As we remember the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others who have courageously and peacefully fought for the common good, let us not forget that we – too – are called to do the same until all of God’s children are cared for and treated equally.
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins…
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.” – Isaiah: 58:1, 6-10
So join the movement to “stand together” to continue Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work of racial and economic justice for all!
IIRON & The People’s Lobby Orientation; Who We Are/What We Believe: Wed., Jan. 29, 6:30-8:30pm
Fundamentals of Organizing Full-Day Leadership Training: Sat., Feb. 1, 9AM-1PM, 2-4:30PM
Protecting Our Environment Taskforce: Thurs., Jan. 30, 6:30-8:00PM
Advancing Worker Justice Taskforce: Tues., Feb. 4, 7-8:30PM
Ending Mass Incarceration Taskforce: Thurs., Feb. 27, 6-7:30PM
*Find out more information at: IIRON.org
For more information about this movement and the root of the economic problems we face today, check out this video:
“There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia…
As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying…
This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” – more of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the National Cathedral during his work on the Poor People’s Campaign.
MLK Celebration Pushes Economic Equality (on abc.local.go.com)
Activists at MLK Event Tie Equality to Wages (on chicagotribune.com)
Reclaiming MLK’s Vision of Economic Justice in Chicago! (on rabbibrant.com)
These Children Share Their Dreams… and poignantly show that we still have a long way to go. (on eugenecho.com)
Stop Celebrating Martin Luther King (on redletterchristians.org)
Sermon: “Time to Protestify” (on musingsfromabricolage.com)