A drum major for justice

Among Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most powerful weapons was his prophetic voice that summoned the American people to stand with him against injustice. Listening to recordings of his mighty speeches, three decades later, still sends chills down the spine. Yet the content of those speeches matches the power of their delivery.

Take just one example: His speech April 4, 1967, at New York’s Riverside Church calling on the American people to rise up against the Vietnam War. King said he had hoped President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” would lift millions out of poverty.

“Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched this program broken and eviscerated. … And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic suction tube. … The war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons … to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.”

When he preached nonviolence, urging rejection of “Molotov cocktails,” King said that some in his audience would ask, “What about Vietnam? Isn’t the U.S. using massive doses of violence?”

King said, “That question hit home and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly against the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”

He laid out a program to end the war and bring the U.S. troops home. He decried corporate investments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which suck out profits, leaving the people in poverty.

“I am convinced that if we as a nation are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we must undergo a radical revolution of values … we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. … When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, then the giant triplets of racism, extreme nationalism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Substitute “Iraq” for “Vietnam” and King could be speaking today. His words reach across the decades, calling us to stand today against George W. Bush’s war in Iraq as well as his war on the rights and living standards of the people here at home.

323,000 working poor hit by man-made disaster

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) announced Jan. 10 that he will drop 323,000 adults from the state’s health program, TennCare, to save about $1.6 billion a year. TennCare covers the working poor and disabled who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Children will not be dropped from the program, Bredesen said.

Gordon Bonnyman, head of the Tennessee Justice Center, called the cuts “unprecedented and unthinkable.”

“Think of this as a natural disaster,” he said.

Disaster? Yes. Natural? No. This is a man-made disaster rooted in our profit-driven health care system and national spending priorities.

According to the Center for American Progress, Tennessee has spent $2.4 billion to bankroll the Iraq war and occupation, while only getting $475.2 million back for two federal priority programs, Homeland Security and No Child Left Behind. Think of it: $2.4 billion from one state going for an illegal, immoral war while 323,000 people go without health care to save half that amount.

Bredesen claimed he had no choice. But he could have shown real leadership, even led a sit-in on the floor of Congress, to spotlight the dire needs of the states and the urgent health care needs of the people. Tennessee is not alone. These life and death problems are mirrored in every state.

The health care industrial complex is a vast profit-making empire. The U.S. is the only industrially developed country that doesn’t have a national health care system. Socialistic-minded stuff like health care for all would be our undoing, Wall Street and right-wing ideologues cry. The undoing of insurance, hospital and pharmaceutical industry fat cats, they mean.

War and profit thrive, and 323,000 people are thrown to the dogs of disease. Where is the outrage? Where are the moral values?