The Daily Item
On Monday — a day designated to celebrate the work and mission of Martin Luther King, Jr. — I devoted time to reflect about King’s continuing significance in our society. I remembered vividly his insistence that racial justice and economic justice are inextricably linked. He would be, I am certain, appalled at the depth and extent of poverty in America and across the world.
Fifty years ago, King proposed Congress should institute a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged.” That same year President Lyndon Johnson initiated the now controversial “war on poverty” whose various components have, alas, been largely diminished over subsequent years.
What King proposed included the guarantee of a job — whether in the private or public sector — with a livable wage for every able person. It included the provision of “quality vocational, professional or academic training” available for all. It called for free medical care for everyone. It specified decent housing for families and individuals. His proposal was, in its full scope, ignored.
King’s scheme echoed a similar call for a “Second Bill of Rights” designed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and containing similar specifications 20 years earlier that similarly had fallen on deaf ears.
That yearning for a Second Bill of Rights, however, persists, given strong voice by a distinguished legal scholar just 10 years ago.
The underlying principle of this kind of proposal is straightforward: that in a genuine democracy, where all women, men and children deserve to be treated humanely, our economic system must be designed accordingly. The driving purpose of our economy should be to serve basic needs. Only under such conditions might we overcome those kinds of social divisions that result in widespread misery and oppression.
While I am keenly aware that, especially among the more powerful of our society, resistance to this proposal would be mighty, nothing less would legitimate our claim to be respected as a democracy or, in King’s terminology, a “beloved community.”
Douglas Sturm, Lewisburg