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The march for justice must include economic justice

When an assassin’s bullet took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, he was standing up for the rights of sanitation workers in the city.

He was in the midst of planning his Poor People’s Campaign to bring low-income people from across America to Washington, D.C., for a demonstration to compel the nation to acknowledge the economic inequality that far too many, particularly people of color, experience in a country touted as the land of opportunity.

“People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way… and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it,’” King is reported to have said as the campaign was being planned.

The issues he raised – economic inequality and the systemic racism that fuels it – are still with us more than half a century later. And now, these chronic inequities have been thrown into stark relief as the United States has been ravaged by a pandemic that has laid bare deep disparities in access to healthcare, and pushed tens of millions of people into unemployment. The nationwide protests against police brutality have simultaneously exposed the systemic racism within our institutions, which threatens not just the lives of people of color, but their economic well-being.

This is why it is so important to join the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington Digital Justice Gathering on June 20. Organizations, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, are continuing King’s mission by joining the Poor People’s Campaign as a mobilizing partner for the event, which will be “the largest digital and social media gathering of poor and low-wealth people, moral and religious leaders, advocates, and people of conscience in this nation’s history.”

The moment for this movement is now.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw staggering sums of money allocated for corporations as people struggling across the country held their breath, hoping lawmakers wouldn’t balk at a one-time stimulus check and enhanced unemployment benefits, which are set to expire at the end of July. This all-too-familiar story exemplified King’s assessment of America decades earlier: “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

And much like the Memphis sanitation workers, today’s essential workers often find themselves with few rights as they fight for fair compensation and access to basic necessities. Amid the pandemic, they now must also worry if they’re sacrificing their health every time they clock in.

The nationwide protests against police brutality are not unrelated, as the racism that infects law enforcement also infects our economic policies. It prevents many people, especially people of color, from earning a living wage in a country with an ever-shrinking social safety net.

For example, a few years ago in Birmingham, Alabama – a place where King fought for civil rights that has recently seen protests against police brutality, as well as the removal a Confederate monument – the majority-Black city attempted to raise the minimum wage. The state’s majority-white Legislature, however, tied Birmingham’s hands by passing a law banning Alabama cities from doing just that.

As King clearly understood so many years ago, the fight for social justice must include economic justice. That’s why it’s so important to join the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington Digital Justice Gathering. Here’s what you can do:

  • RSVP for the event here.
  • Your organization can participate by sending this sample email to supporters, asking them to RSVP for the event.
  • Share this video promoting the event on your social media with a message about why you are joining. Include the RSVP link.
  • Encourage people to share a selfie with a quote about why they are joining the event.
  • You and your organization can include an announcement and call to action for the event in your blog, bulletin or newsletter.

King may no longer be with us, but the march continues. By working together, we can pursue his vision of a United States that lives up to its promise of equal rights, opportunities and justice for all.

Photo by AP Images/Jose Luis Magana