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I hate to throw a wet blanket on anyone’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, but this holiday is not about volunteerism. It’s not about performing a few random acts of charity or kindness. It’s about justice!
Many of us have forgotten – or chosen to sanitize – the core message of the hero of America’s civil rights struggle. We’ve rendered King’s memory comfortable and safe. Thus, we don’t notice the abysmally small progress America has made over the past forty years toward creating the just society King fought and died for.
Sure, as an opinion piece in today’s Des Moines Register notes, volunteering at the food bank, assembling hygiene kits, or writing letters of encouragement to veterans are all good and important things to do. But these acts of charity would be less necessary if justice and equality were alive and well in America today.
At every level of government – city, state and federal – policy decisions exacerbate homelessness, poverty and hunger. According to a CBS news report last month, food bank use is skyrocketing in “the upscale suburb of Urbandale,” where food bank visits are up 80 percent over last year. So, I hope after you stack a few cans at the food bank you’ll call Governor Branstad and read him the riot act for vetoing last year’s modest increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Among congressional Republicans, opposition to real health care reform has made it impossible for a growing number of Americans to access quality, affordable care. So, when you’re done assembling those hygiene kits, make sure you give Congressmen Latham and King and Senator Grassley a piece of your mind for blocking progress on health care reform. And let Congressmen Braley, Boswell, and Loebsack and Senator Harkin know that you expect Democrats to do more than slap a few band aids on a health-care system that’s hemorrhaging.
And when you’re done writing that encouraging letter to a veteran, tell our congressional delegation that a great way to reduce the number of disabled veterans needing letters of encouragement would be to end the war in Afghanistan and to avoid a war with Iran.
Most important, make a commitment not to settle for charity but to fight for justice.
In the spirit of today’s holiday, embrace every tool available to the non-violent activist, including protest, education, voting, civil disobedience, even building a new political party.
Monday, we’ll talk about Martin Luther King Day, justice vs charity, and non-violent action. Also today, we’ll hear from Abbie Durkee with My Alibi Clothing, who talks about her work to inspire woman to feel comfortable enough on a bike to make it their transportation option of choice.
Tuesday, we’ll talk about the City of Des Moines’ $40 million water problem. We’ll also discuss the latest developments in the Keystone pipeline scandal, and why special interests are pressuring President Obama to approve it.
Wednesday, we pose a fascinating question: Why is it that the act of four Marines urinating on Taliban corpses doesn’t discredit the U.S. Marine Corps, yet one Occupier defecating on a New York City police car discredits the whole Occupy Wall Street movement? We’ll also talk about the latest in Republican presidential primary politics. And on a lighter note, pun intended, we’ll talk with piano mover Shon Clausen of S & P Piano about his life of spinal anguish.
Thursday, we’ll discuss how over the past seven years $809 million in state tax breaks have gone to just 50 wealthy companies. Check out this excellent piece of investigative reporting by Lee Rood in Sunday’s’ Des Moines Register. State Representative Dan Kelley (D-Newton) will join us, and I’ve invited other legislative leaders to be part of the conversation as well.