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Friday, April 12, 2013

Dr. King’s Warning of ‘Two Americas’

Dr. King’s Warning of ‘Two Americas’

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Friday, April 12, 2013

You may think you know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but there
is much about the man and his message we have conveniently

He was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling
kings and plutocrats to account — speaking truth to power.

King was only 39 when he was murdered in Memphis 45 years ago,
on April 4, 1968.

The 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 March from Selma
to Montgomery were behind him. So was the successful passage
of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

In the last year of his life, as he moved toward Memphis and his
death, he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign,
a, “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an
encampment and demand from Congress an, “Economic Bill of
Rights” for all Americans — black, white, or brown.

He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not
be separated from the need for economic equity, fairness for
all, including working people and the poor.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had more than a dream – he envisioned what
America could be, if only it lived up to its promise of life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness for each and every citizen.

That’s what we have conveniently forgotten as the years have passed
and his reality has slowly been shrouded in the marble monuments of

But read part of the speech Dr. King made at Stanford University in
1967, a year before his assassination and marvel at how relevant his
words remain:

“There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for
situation. And in a sense this America is overflowing with the milk of
prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat
of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their
bodies, and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and
dignity for their spirits. …

“Tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other
America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms
the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America
millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for
jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find
themselves living in rat-infected vermin-filled slums. In this
America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves
perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean
of material prosperity.”

Breathtakingly prescient words as we look around us at a society
where the chasm between the super rich and poor is wider and
deeper than ever.

According to a Department of Housing and Urban Development
press release, “On a single night last January, 633,782 people
were homeless in the United States.”

The Institute for Policy Studies’ online weekly “Too Much”
notes that single-room-occupancy shelter rates run about
$558 per month and quotes analyst Paul Buchheit, who says
that at that rate, “Any one of America’s ten richest collected
enough in 2012 income to pay an entire year’s rent for all of
America’s homeless.”

But why rent when you can buy?

“Too Much” also reports that the widow of recently deceased
financier Martin Zweig “amid a Manhattan luxury boom” has
placed their apartment at the top of the posh Pierre Hotel on
the market for $125 million:

“A sale at that price would set a new New York record for a luxury
personal residence, more than $30 million over the current real
estate high marks.”

Meanwhile, a new briefing paper from the advocacy group
National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds there are
27 million unemployed or underemployed workers in the U.S.
labor force, including “not only the unemployed counted by
official jobs reports, but also the eight million part-time
workers who would rather be working full-time and the 6.8
million discouraged workers who want to work but who have
stopped looking altogether.”

Five years after the financial meltdown, “the average
duration of unemployment remains at least twice that
of any other recession since the 1950s.”

And if you think austerity’s a good idea, NELP estimates that,
“Taken together, the ‘sequester’ and other budget cutting
policies will likely slow GDP this year by 2.1 percentage
points, costing the U.S. economy over 2.4 million jobs.”

Walmart’s one of those companies laying people off, but
according to the website Business Insider, the mega chain’s
CEO Michael Duke gets paid 1,034 times more than his
average worker.

Matter of fact, “In the past 30 years, compensation for chief
executives in America has increased 127 times faster than the
average worker’s salary.”

Two Americas indeed.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writer
at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public
affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television.

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