I spent this past Sunday evening at the teen social justice summit at Bensalem High School for a viewing of the film “Walking While Black.” The film detailed the injustices African Americans continue to endure 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for this nation’s civil rights movement.
It was the type of event that left you with a bottomless pit in your stomach. How have we allowed our society to continue to structurally oppress so many people when we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world?
Why is this still a problem?
MLK was quoted saying, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”
Even in the 1960s, he knew the civil rights movement was the tip of the iceberg.
In a 1967 report to Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff, he said, “We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed.”
Martin Luther King Jr. was not just calling for a Civil Rights Act — he was calling for structural changes to American society as a whole. He was calling for true justice for all because he knew the civil rights movement would fail if we did not address economic inequality and an unchecked military industrial complex.
Instead of making progress, we have spent nearly 50 years regressing. Since the 70s, economic inequality has skyrocketed to levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. The three wealthiest Americans now own as much wealth as the 160 million citizens who make up “the bottom 50%,” according to The Institute for Policy Studies. Military spending now dominates the federal budget and radical increases to this spending go almost entirely unchecked by Republicans and most Democrats.
Fear has been used as a tool to convince the masses that it is in our best interest to spend trillions of dollars killing strangers in deserts across the ocean instead of spending trillions providing our fellow Americans with safe communities, fair paying jobs, affordable homes, quality educations, and universal healthcare.
MLK once stated that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, “If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.”
It is time to admit where we currently stand as a nation. Our communities are suffering. Too many people have been left behind. Our leaders have had their eyes on the wrong prize for far too long. Solutions to these problems are not complicated, but they require the political will to stand up to wealthy special interests.
In the coming election, let us honor MLK’s legacy by finishing what he started. Let this be the year we right the course of history by electing leaders who fight in solidarity for structural changes alongside those who have been left behind so that true justice for all becomes a reality.
Skylar Hurwitz is a New Hope resident and candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 1st District.