On Saturday, August 31, just three days after President Obama spoke at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's dream speech, President Obama spoke to lay out the case for targeted military strikes on Syria. As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington called for Americans to continue the fight for the unfinished business of Dr. King's dream, a starting point is questioning America's continued quick stance to move on military intervention and its stalled stance for intervention on economic equality for all Americans.
Immediately before Dr. King's untimely death on April 4, 1968, he was meeting with Memphis sanitation workers to fight for a fair living wage. He was also speaking out against the Vietnam War, calling for an end to the war. And as the March on Washington speeches were ending on August 28, 2013, the following day, there were food service worker strikes from tens of thousands of workers in various cities across the country from Anaheim, California to New York City, protesting for a living wage to raise the minimum wage. And apparently during the same time period, there were meetings between President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and others discussing the potential military strikes in Syria.
Many food service and lower paid workers are dependent on some form of government assistance, including food stamps, even if working a 40-hour week, due to low wages. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. Workers want the minimum wage to increase to $15 an hour. And yet the corporations who employ them and pay low wages complain that they would not make enough profit if wages were increased. Even as we celebrated Labor Day this week, many working American employees do not enjoy the benefit.
Better education and a college degree is crucial but the increased costs of higher education and increased tightening of credit qualifications for federal parent's loans decreases the ability of many students to obtain a college education. Since 2012, as many as 128,000 students from historically black colleges and universities have had to drop out of college with no clear path to returning due to inability to obtain these loans. On August 1, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D. OH) wrote on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus to the Department of Education to suspend the practice and "stop the bleeding."
A quality education begins long before college in pre-school. The Head Start program prepared 1 million low income children up to age five for school last year while assisting parents with social services. And with the sequester cuts, Head Start has cut 57,000 children this current school year. These are the largest cuts since the program began in 1965, according to PEW research.
And without an education, under employment and unemployment run rampant. The unemployment rate for African Americans is higher today as it was 50 years ago. The rate in 1963 was 10.90 percent for blacks. The current black unemployment rate in 2013 is 12.6 percent. 27.6 percent of black households are in poverty, which is three times that of white households, according to PEW research. The gap or difference between black versus white unemployment hasn't changed in 50 years. As many social gains have been made since 1963, African Americans can sit at the lunch counters and restaurants today but many cannot afford to do so.
Dr. King knew that war was an enemy of the poor. And as Tupac Shakur once said, "They have money for war but can't feed the poor." With all that is broken within our current economic system, adding more U.S. debt for military intervention and all the while decreasing funds for education, jobs, job training, Head Start, Food Stamps, government assistance to the poor, seems the perfect time to continue the fight for Dr. King's dream.