What Martin Luther King, Jr. Might Say to Americans Being Crushed by Profit

MLK Jr, 'Just Take the First Step'

For Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (1/20) of 2014, I’m reposting these excerpts from his last book of essays, The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968—written as he planned a people’s occupation of Washington DC.

And I hope you’ll consider how horribly King’s words of FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO have come true. Under this measure of the time in which I lived, I feel ashamed, that human inequality and the suicidal murder of Mother Earth have only intensified under the walking lie called Profit. And “what can you do,” when people have grown so comatose, inward (with their devices) and passive? “Take the first step.”

Consider these 2014 economic stats from “Another Shocking Wealth Grab by the Rich — In Just One Year,” by Paul Buchheit (piece discussing new research data), published at Common Dreams news website Jan. 21 2014:

“The overall calculations reveal that, to the best approximation:
–The richest 400 individuals made an average of $750,000,000 each in 2013.
–The .01% (12,000 families) made about $40,000,000 each.
–The .1% (120,000 families) made about $3,600,000 each.
–The rest of the 1% (1,068,000 families) made over $830,000 each.
–The 2-5% (4,800,000 households) made about $300,000 each.
–The 6-10% (6,000,000 households) made about $95,000 each.
–The 11-20% (12,000,000 households) made about $39,000 each.
–The 21-40% (24,000,000 households) made about $13,000 each.
–The 41-60% (24,000,000 households) made about $4,000 each.
–The 61-80% (24,000,000 households) made about $333 each.
–The bottom 20% (24,000,000 households) made nothing.”


Below begin excerpts from The Trumpet of Conscience: from “Nonviolence and Social Change,” 1968:

     …Of course, by now it is obvious that new laws are not enough. The emergency we now face is economic, and it is a desperate and worsening situation. For the 35 million poor people in America—not even to mention, just yet, the poor in other nations—there is a kind of strangulation in the air. In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist. You are in a real way depriving him of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, denying in his case the very creed of his society. Now, millions of people are being strangled that way. The problem is international in scope. And it is getting worse, as the gap between the poor and the ‘affluent society’ increases.

     The question that now divides the people who want radically to change that situation is: can a program of nonviolence—even if it envisions massive civil disobedience—realistically expect to deal with such an enormous, entrenched evil?

     …I intend to show that nonviolence will be effective, but not until it has achieved the massive dimensions, the disciplined planning, and the intense commitment of a sustained, direct-action movement of civil disobedience on the national scale….

     …The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.

      Beginning in the New Year, we will be recruiting three thousand of the poorest citizens from ten different urban and rural areas to initiate and lead a sustained, massive, direct-action movement in Washington, D.C. Those who choose to join this initial three thousand, this nonviolent army, this ‘freedom church’ of the poor, will work with us for three months to develop nonviolent action skills. Then we will move on Washington, determined to stay there until the legislative and executive branches of the government take serious and adequate action on jobs and income.

     A delegation of poor people can walk into a high official’s office with a carefully, collectively prepared list of demands. (If you’re poor, if you’re unemployed anyway, you can choose to stay in Washington as long as the struggle needs you.) And if that official says, ‘But Congress would have to approve this,’ or, ‘But the President would have to be consulted on that,’ you can say, ‘All right, we’ll wait.’ And you can settle down in his office for as long a stay as necessary.

     If you are, let’s say, from rural Mississippi, and have never had medical attention, and your children are undernourished and unhealthy, you can take those little children into the Washington hospitals and stay with them there until the medical workers cope with their needs, and in showing it your children, you will have shown this country a sight that will make it stop in its busy tracks and think hard about what it has done.

     The many people who will come and join this three thousand, from all groups in the country’s life, will play a supportive role, deciding to be poor for a time along with the dispossessed who are asking for their right to jobs or income—jobs, income, the demolition of slums, and the rebuilding by the people who live there of new communities in their place; in fact, a new economic deal for the poor.

     …I have said that the problem, the crisis we face, is international in scope. In fact, it is inseparable from an international emergency that involves the poor, the dispossessed, and the exploited of the whole world.

      Can a nonviolent, direct-action movement find application on the international level, to confront economic and political problems? I believe it can. It is clear to me that the next stage of the movement is to become international.

     National movements within the developed countries—forces that focus on London, or Paris, or Washington, or Ottawa—must help to make it politically feasible for their governments to undertake the kind of massive aid that the developing countries need if they are to break the chains of poverty. We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism. Americans in particular must help their nation repent of her modern economic imperialism.

     But movements in our countries alone will not be enough….So many of Latin America’s problems have roots in the United States of America that we need to form a solid, united movement, nonviolently conceived and carried through, so that pressure can be brought to bear on the capital and government power structures concerned, from both sides of the problem at once. I think that may be the only hope for a nonviolent solution in Latin America today; and one of the most powerful expressions of nonviolence may come out of that international coalition of socially aware forces, operating outside governmental frameworks.

     …In practice, such a decision would represent such a major reordering of priorities that we should not expect that any movement could bring it about in one year or two. Indeed, although it is obvious that nonviolent movements for social change must internationalize, because of the interlocking nature of the problems they all face, and because otherwise those problems will breed war, we have hardly begun to build the skills and the strategy, or even the commitment, to planetize our movement for social justice.

     …In this world, nonviolence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis: it is an imperative for action.


About Dr Jack Dempsey

Always good to hear from you! A life-long freelance writer/editor, Brown University Ph.D. (in Native & Early American Studies)---novelist ("Ariadne's Brother," "People of the Sea"), historian and biographer ("New English Canaan," "Thomas Morton," "Mystic Fiasco" and more), producer ("Nani: A Native New England Story"), Book Editor/Public Speaking Coach: Bentley University Adjunct Assistant Professor of English, Media Studies & Communications (Best Part Time Prof 2010). Latest works? Scientific nonfiction on the lunar/solar calendar of ancient Minoan Crete---"The Knossos Calendar: Minoan Cycles of the Sun, the Moon, the Soul & Political Power" (Iraklion, Mystis 2016), based on lectures drawn from "Calendar House: Clues to Minoan Time from Knossos Labyrinth" (2011). Come and enjoy multimedia resources including filmed Native American interviews at ANCIENTLIGHTS.ORG
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One Response to What Martin Luther King, Jr. Might Say to Americans Being Crushed by Profit

  1. Reblogged this on jackdempseywriter and commented:

    On MLK’s 2014 birthday I’m re-posting this, because I feel ashamed that the problems of which MLK wrote here, FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, have gotten worse in every way along with our suicidal disrespect for the only Mother Earth we have.

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