I am a huge fan of Martin Luther King Jr. Ever since I can remember, Dr. King's speech has moved me in a way that few others can. So when the topic came up during a meeting with a colleague, I felt compelled to write down my reflections on just how much we still need to heed Dr. King's message today.
We don't need to go far to see that hate is alive and well. The recent presidential debates have consistently rewarded the most hateful answers by candidates with rousing applause. Need we recall the round of applause Rick Perry got when he bragged about the number of executions carried out under his watch; or the question submitted by anti-immigrant group FAIR featured in the Fox/Google: "Are you going to exert an effort to stop the abuse of U.S. citizens by illegals?"
Everywhere we turn we see attempts to divide and oppose. Many "all-stars" in the party of "NO" on Capitol Hill have made their names by opposing health care, clean air, clean energy, even voting rights. Some leading the charge , as Robert Greenwald wrote today, are Tea Party funders, Charles and David Koch, who have their hand in everything from ensuring we don't have clean air to helping the proliferation of voter suppression laws across the country. All of which impact the poor seniors, minorities and disabled citizens the most.
This country was founded on freedom and equality, yet those who like to quote the amendments of the constitution most seem to ignore that these rights inure to all citizens (and in some cases even to non-citizens - for those who continue to view certain immigrants as less than human). That was the essence of Dr. King's dream and life's work: equality.
Unfortunately, even almost 50 years after his death, his dream is still a dream for many. The largest minority groups in the country, African Americans and Latinos, continue to see less wealth, more poverty and worse unemployment than whites. The nation's poverty rate rose last year to 15.1 percent, the highest level in 17 years. The fall was worse for women, Hispanics (about 27 percent) and African-Americans. And if recent years have taught us anything it's that poverty, for many of us, is only a few paychecks or an illness away from becoming our reality.
And inequality goes further yet. Affecting people daily even in some our greatest cities. Need proof? Pay a visit to your local landfill, toxic dump or coal-burning power plant. Odds are pretty good that the people living near that plant are poor, and in many cases black or Latino. Those of us who are able to drive home, away from these polluted areas, can pretend that we left the impacts of this pollution behind us, but we're kidding ourselves. Pollution knows no boundaries, and while it may not be clearly present outside our doors, its impacts, like the impacts of hate and inequality, affects us all.
Attacks against environmental protection must be viewed for what they are, attacks on us all, on our health, on our economy and the future of our country. Laws like the Clean Air Act save lives, reduce prevent heart disease, and child illnesses and help to create equal opportunity by making it possible for healthy people to live, work and thrive.
On this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I share my dream, that clean air and safe food and water be available to everyone without distinction. Only then will we have true equality.