In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson penned the famous words that “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Throughout America’s history, the nation has made painfully slow progress achieving the meaning of Jefferson’s words and yet, instead of realizing that self-evident truth, the reality is that the population has not embraced the concept that all Americans are equal. Over forty-eight years ago Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and he cited Jefferson’s words as part of his vision that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed that all men are created equal.” As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, it is critical to the survival of our country that every American commits to achieving equality for all citizens regardless of race, religion, economic status, and sexual orientation.
There is little doubt that America has made some progress in achieving equality for all its citizens since the founding of the nation, and especially since Dr. King’s speech. However, since President Obama’s election, it is apparent that the equality Dr. King dreamt of is still a long way from being realized and the racism rampant during the Sixties, although not as blatant, is still a source of shame for a free country. Dr. King understood that people of color lacked the same economic opportunities their white counterparts enjoyed and worked for change to ensure that every American, regardless of race, had an equal opportunity to find employment, an education, and healthcare during their working lives and into their retirement.
In the past three years, and especially the past year, Republicans in Congress and state legislatures have attempted to widen the income inequality that prevents all Americans from achieving equal opportunities to prosper and have deliberately disenfranchised the poor by keeping them in poverty with little hope of ever escaping a life of destitution. Dr. King may have never imagined a group of politicians who deliberately oppressed working Americans as well as the already poor, but that is precisely what the GOP corporatists have accomplished.
Some of the poverty numbers are stunning in the richest country in the history of the world and the Republican efforts to grow those numbers by killing existing jobs and subverting job creation would most likely sadden Dr. King. In 2010, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty, and 76.7 million families lived below the median income. Of those numbers, 27.4% are African Americans, 26.6 % are Hispanics and 9.9% are white. The number of African American children living in poverty is 39.1%, and 12.4% are white children. It is horrendous that any Americans live in poverty, but the fact that African Americans and Hispanics’ outnumber poor white people by three to four times informs that there is gross economic inequality across the population. The prospects of those groups escaping debilitating poverty is in part because of lack of educational opportunities and unemployment due to the economic downturn caused by Republican financial sector deregulation and tax breaks for corporations that outsourced Americans’ jobs.
The poverty numbers in and of themselves are despicable, but Dr. King’s holiday should be about hope instead of dire statistics. It is tragically sad though, that there is so little hope for tens-of-millions of Americans and if Republicans have their way, the poverty numbers will continue to grow and will include working families and increasingly, retired Americans. The Republicans are promising to privatize Medicare and Social Security to enrich Wall Street and instead of working with President Obama to create jobs, they have blocked any job creation efforts to protect the wealthiest 1% from tax increases. The leading Republican presidential hopeful, Willard Romney, proposed a 59-point economic plan that raises taxes on the middle class and working families while giving tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% that are double those of George Bush. The Republicans are not interested in following Jefferson’s contention that all men are created equal and instead have bifurcated America into the peasant-class and the ultra-rich that are substantially more equal than the rest of the population.
Dr. King’s dream of equality for all Americans is within the realm of possibility if all politicians were genuinely interested in the entire population. America has the means to educate, employ, and provide health care for the entire population if our politicians and population were not steeped in the belief that non-whites are subhuman and not worthy of equal opportunities. America could be the country that Dr. King envisioned if unfettered greed and racial bigotry were not so entrenched in a large segment of the population.
It is ultimately sad that many Americans advocate for giving all of this country’s assets to the wealthy elite and their corporations while destroying employment opportunities and safety nets in the guise of budget cuts and debt reduction. Dr. King’s vision was beautiful in its simplicity in that he advocated for all Americans, regardless of color, to have the same opportunities to prosper with a decent job, education, and health care that Republicans oppose. Until all Americans, and especially Republicans, accept Jefferson and Dr. King’s contention that all Americans are equal, 99% of the population will continue facing the prospect of falling into poverty so Republicans can enrich the wealthy.
Today is set aside to remember the life of Dr. King, but it is more important for all Americans to share in his dream that one day, every citizen has the same opportunities to prosper regardless of race. However, Americans must recognize that there is a group of politicians that actively works to keep minorities disenfranchised and, in the past year, have expanded their oppression to keep working-class, middle class, retired people, and more children than ever before at or near poverty.
It is sad to admit, but Dr. King’s lofty dream will never become reality as long as Republicans oppose equality for all Americans. Instead of realizing his dream, millions of Americans are stuck in a nightmare and their prospects look bleaker every day Republicans give the nation’s wealth to the rich and their corporations. One hopes America will eventually become the truly great nation Dr. King knew it has the potential to become, but until Republicans and their racist supporters agree that every American is equal; this country will languish in mediocrity and eventually become a nation of peasants ruled by wealthy elitists. It has been over 48 years since MLK shared his dream of a great America and hopefully, it will not take another 48 years for his belief that all Americans are equal to reach fruition.