As a native Virginian, I am obsessed with the past. The words "On this day, (x number) of years ago…" from a Morning Edition host's mouth are enough to put me on high alert on any morning, even a drizzly Friday. The piece I heard on Robert Kennedy's informing an Indianapolis crowd that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot and killed was worth the waking up. (Although, to be perfectly honest, there's a smidge of white paternalism in seeking to credit Kennedy rather than Indy's black community for keeping the peace that terrible night.) If you missed it, don't worry, there's more good stuff on this sad anniversary. MLK III has an excellent op-ed in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the un-won War on Poverty.
Our next president will be taking over a government that faces virtually the exact same poverty rate my father found so appalling back in 1968. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the current poverty rate is just over 12 percent, as it was in 1968, while the number of people living in poverty has grown from 25 million to more than 36 million, including 12 million children."
Generally, I'm against war. The War on Drugs is stupid, pointless, and actively counterproductive. The War on Terror is a war on a hardy tactic rather than an actual enemy. The Iraq War is a quagmire. But what about a war we could win without killing anyone? Without, in fact, any violence? Sounds like something I could get behind, even if it hasn't gone anywhere since before I was born. But the creation of a "cabinet-level officer whose responsibility will be to make a measurable impact on eradicating poverty and allow more Americans to move up into our middle class" might actually get us somewhere.
With real data, the office can generate meaningful reports on the causes and effects of poverty that will raise the profile of poverty as a national issue and highlight successful anti-poverty policies that can be promoted to Congress, the president and the public. In a nation heavily influenced by our market-based principles, we pay attention to what we can count. So it's time to start counting correctly."
When 81% of a nation's people believe it is headed in the wrong direction, it might be time to try something new. It might be time for a better response than, "So?" It might be time to set our house in order so that other folks who love freedom as much as we do (to be read in smarmy faux-Texan accent) have a beacon in the world to light the darkness. What if we started at home, where King started, and see if we can make the kind of difference he dreamed of. Wouldn't that be something? I know Hillary would tell you these are just words, but surely we can still be inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., himself, by a speech he delivered when accepting the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize:
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding of events which surround him."
Are we ready? Martin Luther King III thinks we are, and I pray that he is right.