On Martin Luther King and The Other America

Jim Gilliam: Martin Luther King

It’s as if he was standing in the rubble of Bush’s Katrina debacle. Masterfully, and inspirationally, he ties together race, war, poverty,values and the military into one sweeping narrative that defines the best of what liberalism could be.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Amen.

If he were alive today, King would be chewed up in the right-wing character assassination machine, but things were more straightforward 40 years ago… they just straight up assassinated him — one year to the day after giving this speech.

Read or listen to it. Even the parts about Vietnam — they are eerily appropriate in the context of today’s Humvee democracy.

Related: Newsweek: The Other America:

It takes a hurricane. It takes a catastrophe like Katrina to strip away the old evasions, hypocrisies and not-so-benign neglect. It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye—visible around the world—to help the rest of us begin to see again. For the moment, at least, Americans are ready to fix their restless gaze on enduring problems of poverty, race and class that have escaped their attention. Does this mean a new war on poverty? No, especially with Katrina’s gargantuan price tag. But this disaster may offer a chance to start a skirmish, or at least make Washington think harder about why part of the richest country on earth looks like the Third World.

“I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane,” Sen. Barack Obama said last week on the floor of the Senate. “They were abandoned long ago—to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”

The question now is whether the floodwaters can create a sea change in public perceptions. “Americans tend to think of poor people as being responsible for their own economic woes,” says sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. “But this was a case where the poor were clearly not at fault. It was a reminder that we have a moral obligation to provide every American with a decent life.”

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