Nel's New Day

August 28, 2013

Where Is the ‘Dream’?

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act passed the year after King’s speech and followed that with the Voting Rights Act. The United States, however, has failed to address the March’s goals for economic opportunity and equality, ten demands in civil rights legislation, public school desegregation, voting rights, job training, and an increased minimum wage.

  • Congressional comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation without compromise or filibuster-to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.
  • Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
  • Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
  • Enforcement of the fourteenth Amendment, reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
  • A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
  • Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
  • A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers–Negro and white–on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
  • A national minimum wage act that· will give all Americans a decent standard of living.
  • A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.
  • A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.

During the 15 years after the 1963 March on Washington, conditions for blacks in the United States vastly improved, and legislation benefitted other groups—women, poor whites, other communities of color, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. Poverty rates dropped along with improvement in education, employment, and democratic participation. Congress and the president worked together to solve national problems.

Yet in two cases during the 1970s, the Supreme Court limited mandatory school-desegregation plans and declared that education is not a fundamental right. After that SCOTUS put limits on the ability of school districts to voluntarily create integration plans. Other decisions have put barriers in the way of people to take violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to court.

Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980 saw the growth of the Heritage Foundation, created after Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) lost the 1964 election to Lyndon B. Johnson, and Reagan moved Goldwater’s supporters into federal agencies and onto federal benches. The Federalist Society grew, creating a network of conservative lawyers who provided legal arguments to defeat social justice. Conservative media outlets like Fox News began to use their falsehoods to influence less knowledgeable people.

Fox contributor Laura Ingraham displayed a prime example of conservative media when she culminated her hateful responses to the anniversary of the March on Washington with a clip of the speech given 50 years ago by civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) and interrupted the speech with the sound of a gunshot and then long silence.  Following a commercial break, conservative columnist Pat Buchanan claimed that Lewis, Rev. Al Sharpton and other speakers at Saturday’s event were “part of a great racket.” He said, “What will these folks do, quite frankly, if they had to get up and admit we’ve got more opportunities than any large group of black folks anywhere on Earth today and our community is not making the most of it?”

Fifty years later, partisan divides gridlock the federal government, the GOP is setting back efforts to help the poor, unemployment and the need for jobs are elevated, and union-busting has caused loss of income for everyone except the U.S. elite.

Fifty years later people still carry signs asking for “Voting Rights,” “Jobs for All,” and “Decent Housing.” People still protest the vigilante killing of an unarmed black teenager in the South and his killer’s acquittal. People still denounce racial profiling in the country’s largest city.

Voting: Seven Southern states passed or implemented voter suppression laws in the two months since the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This decision followed a general election in which blacks waited twice as long to vote, on average, as whites. One in 13 blacks (2.2 million people) cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement laws—four times higher than the rest of the population.

Jobs: Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began functioning two years after the March, employers still prefer white workers, according to Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy. The unemployment rate for blacks (12.6 percent) is almost twice as that for whites (6.6 percent), about the same ratio as in 1963. The average household income for blacks ($32,068) is far below that of white families ($54,620) and declined by 15 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Job Training: The $38.6 billion in 2013 dollars budgeted in 1978 shrank to $8 billion in 2013 dollars by 2007. Congress consistently fails to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the nation’s largest job-training program, for the past 15 years. Legislation also excludes important methods to improve services such as developing skilled workers through education and training.

School Desegregation:  Because of housing patterns, schools are segregated at the same rates as the late 1960s, according to Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of the education think tank Bellwether Education Partners. Three-fourths of all black students attend schools that are majority nonwhite.

Minimum Wage:  The value of the current minimum wage is below that in 1964, yet conservatives ridicule fast-food workers who have joined to fight for decent wages. At the time of the 1963 March, the minimum wage of $1.25 was equivalent to $9.25 today–$2 higher than the current minimum of $7.25. March organizers demanded $2 per hour, in today’s dollars more than $14.80, but by the time the minimum was raised to that level 11 years after the March, inflation had eaten up any advantage. ALEC, the corporate-controlled organization that hands out bills to GOP legislators, opposes any increase in minimum wages, calls for a full repeal of minimum wages, and works to prevent local efforts to enact living wage requirements. Meanwhile, fast-food and other low-wage workers are striking against low pay in Chicago, New York City, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Raleigh, Atlanta, Houston, and Oakland.

Justice: While conservatives fight to load the bench with judges opposed to equal rights, the number of judicial vacancies has grown to emergency levels. There are not enough judges to hear cases on the country’s dockets.

Racism: Although all restaurants must now serve blacks, a group of 25 blacks were told to leave the Wild Wing Café in South Carolina after peacefully waiting for two hours to be seated. One white patron felt “threatened. This is just one of millions of racist acts in the U.S.

At last weekend’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial, the main themes were the same as 50 years ago—voter suppression, “stand your ground” laws, stop-and-frisk, and the question of jobs and union-busting. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, talked about the “stand your ground” laws. She said, “We can think of ‘standing your ground’ in the negative. But I ask you today to flip that coin. Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality!”  One poster showed a picture of Rosa Parks who stood her ground by refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Before he was killed in on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., had these comments about the Republican party. The GOP hasn’t changed since that time.

The 1964 Republican National Convention: “The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater (GOP 1964 presidential candidate):  “While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand.”

Ronald Reagan: “When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.”

The March on Washington was about jobs and freedom, and Congress is avoiding any discussion about both. The country needs to fight back against those who refuse to recognize the importance of economic equality and who define freedom as “freedom to oppress others.”

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1 Comment »

  1. During the 15 years after the 1963 March on Washington, conditions for blacks in the United States vastly improved,

    Improved how? It wasn’t economically. African American unemployment was falling until 1963 and hasn’t improved. Care to explain? Race relations have improved significantly since MLK’s famous speech, but partisan drivel like this article is as bad as ever.

    Like

    Comment by Henshaw — August 29, 2013 @ 5:47 AM | Reply


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