MLK's Unfinished Revolution

By Mary Nelson 1-22-2008

Martin Luther King's sermon at Riverside Church linked the devastating Vietnam war to the struggle over poverty. I began working that year in an under-resourced community and wore a "Bread not Bombs" sweatshirt to anti-war demonstrations. Sadly, not much has changed. The amount spent on the Iraq war (CBO estimate $9 billion a month, up to $1 trillion total), if directed elsewhere, would virtually ensure universal education, universal health care, and affordable housing.

King called for a revolution of values from racism, materialism, and militarism. Little has changed in 40 years for people in my low-income community. Racism still dominates. It is less overt now, but has expanded from divisions of black-white to Latino, Asian, Arab Muslim, and immigrants. Katrina pictures reminded us of how little progress we've made on economic disparity. Economic progress is measured by consumer spending. Environmental issues threaten our future. King ended his speech saying, " Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter-but beautiful-struggle for a new world."

My Sojourners Sweatshirt says, "HOPE is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change." Despite the evidence, I am strangely hopeful. I see young people wanting a better world, working for candidates, working in community and on environmental issues. I know generous people who share resources and skills to forge new opportunities for jobs. Economist Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty) and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus (Creating a World without Poverty) outline specific ways to change the disparities. Now let us dedicate ourselves to the long yet beautiful struggle for a new world.

Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners.

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