US Uncut and the forgotten legacy of MLK
“Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: ‘We want to be free!'”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968
King was speaking to a group of organized sanitation workers in Memphis who were fighting for fairer wages, better hours and adequate benefits. One day after he gave that speech, he was shot to death on a hotel balcony at the young age of 39.
On Saturday, February 26th, US Uncut members in New York City, Atlanta, GA, Jackson, Mississippi and approximately 50 other US cities from California to Maine all decided to do more than merely join facebook groups or write online blogs- we all cried out for freedom, justice and equality on the streets directly in the faces of America’s biggest corporate tax dodgers. And we were joined by our friends across the pond as UK Uncut held a nationwide day of bank protests in their country. Our fight to ensure corporations pay their fair share in taxes before the rest of us lose our jobs and social programs was also the second fight of the American Civil Rights movement that was never fully realized.
Dr. King’s legacy of ending racial segregation in the South is well-known; what isn’t known is his fierce dedication to economic justice and drawing awareness to the growing plight of both black and white America- rapacious inequality between the ruling/corporate class and everyone else. The media wasn’t a fan of Dr. King’s economic agenda, and still isn’t to this day. Turn on the television each year on Martin Luther King Day and you’ll notice a memory hole between his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech and his assassination in 1968. Life magazine described Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech as “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post was especially vicious when they wrote, “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.” While that speech and other speeches have been filmed just as with his former speeches, the mainstream media still ignores them today.
Fox News Pundit Glenn Beck (who recently attacked UK Uncut and US Uncut) had the audacity to hold a rally in Washington, D.C. on the 45th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Beck is the same corporate shill who tells his audiences to quit their churches if their pastors used the phrases “economic justice” and “social justice” in their sermons. Yet, Beck, a fierce advocate for widening the gap between the rich and the poor, would likely put Dr. King on his dreaded chalkboard if MLK were alive today.
“Yes, before the victory is won, some will be misunderstood. Some will be dismissed as dangerous rabble-rousers and agitators. Some will be called reds and Communists merely because they believe in economic justice and the brotherhood of man. But we shall overcome.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King was fiercely devoted to ending poverty, and mastered nonviolent means to make the world pay attention to the previous cause of equal voting rights and desegregation. His cause was on a rising tide of positive momentum all the way up to the moment of his death. He planned for a massive organization of America’s working poor to descend on the Capitol and create a massive tent city in full view of Congress until a $30 billion anti-poverty economic bill of rights was passed. However, MLK was assassinated before the protest happened. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference took on the project, but without his presence and leadership, the Resurrection City movement eventually disbanded after Robert Kennedy’s assassination and economic rights legislation was never passed.
In Mississippi in 1967, Dr. King came up with the idea of an “Economic Bill of Rights” to guarantee full employment to all willing and able to work and a guaranteed annual income for those who could not work, a massive government jobs program to revitalize American cities and more construction of lower-income housing. He called for a widespread approach of “militaristic nonviolence” to jumpstart the “second phase” of the civil rights movement. The first phase had been desegregating public facilities, but Dr. King acknowledged that this was not the end of the struggle. His goal was to make the Poor People’s Campaign the greatest mobilization of civil disobedience in history. Readers Digest railed against the Poor People’s Campaign, predicting an “insurrection” if America’s working poor actually went through with their protest.
US Uncut is the continuation of the battle Dr. King never got the chance to see. It is a united, nationwide grassroots movement with a simple message- if corporations paid their taxes like individuals and small businesses do, Americans would prosper, government would have the necessary means to care for and empower the citizenry, and joblessness and poverty would wither away. It is a movement that doesn’t endorse a specific political candidate or political party, nor does it back any particular political ideology- we are citizens who are taking to the streets to ask, “We pay our taxes- why don’t they?”
I want to leave readers with a question- is it too late to carry on the torch for America’s disappearing middle class in place of Dr. King? Or are we millennials, the first generation of the new century, poised and ripe to champion the cause of working Americans?
Will we accept longer wars while we accept lower wages and longer hours?
Will we accept billion-dollar bonuses and billion-dollar tax cut packages for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America executives while we accept the chipping away of our own Social Security and health care?
Will we sit silently and let the middle class disappear while wealth concentrates at the top, or will we organize and fight for leadership that listens to us?
How will you honor Dr. King’s legacy?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.