It feels special that the first Real Change column I am writing will be in the paper for Martin Luther King Jr. Day as I get to share another birthday weekend with Dr. King and believe he continues to be an incredible moral leader.
- By 1967, the year before he was assassinated, several hard-fought legislative battles had been won:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1957, which allowed federal prosecution for trying to prevent someone from voting
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which sought to overcome the barriers placed on the Black vote (i.e., poll taxes and literacy tests).
In his “Where Do We Go From Here” speech, Dr. King noted, “the plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower.” He focused on economics and promoted Operation Breadbasket to get businesses that benefited from Black dollars to hire Black people and put money into Black communities.
He implored us to continue to fight inequality in income, housing and education. He questioned a capitalist economy that would leave 40 million people poor. Today, there remains close to 40 million impoverished people in the U.S., with 5 percent living in extreme poverty and an additional one-third living close to poverty.
Dr. King was against the military industrial complex, believing that far too much money was spent on bases around the world than on “bases of genuine concern and understanding.” He wanted us to see that the problems of racism, economic exploitation and war are all tied together. As he so eloquently said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In his death, we all too often dilute his demand that we be relentless in the struggle for justice. Here in Bellingham there is a “day of service” option on MLK Day to clean up Whatcom Falls Park. The promoters posit that improving water quality and salmon habitat honors Dr. King’s intent.
A “day of service” that fails to discuss racism, voter suppression, economic exploitation or war dishonors his legacy.
Those of us wanting to honor Dr. King, especially those of us who are White or have economic privilege, can attend the MLK Human Rights Conference at Whatcom Community College Jan. 18, where issues of poverty and race should be centered. Other ways to honor Dr. King include volunteering with an organization to help people suffering from poverty or protesting racism — year-round.
We honor his legacy by recalling his wisdom: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
Jill Mullins is an intersectional feminist, attorney, activist and much more. She has written for NW Lawyer, King County Bar News and LGBTQ outlets.
Read the full Jan. 15-21 issue.
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