IN THE LAST YEAR of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. struggled with what are best understood as existential challenges as he began to move toward an ever-more-profound and radical understanding of what would be required to deal with the nation’s domestic and international problems.
The direction he was exploring, I believe, is far more relevant to the realities we now face than many have realized—or have wanted to realize.
I first met King in 1964 at the Democratic Party’s national convention held that year in Atlantic City—the occasion of an historic challenge by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to the racially segregated and reactionary Mississippi Democratic Party. I was then a very young aide working for Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Sen. Nelson authorized me to help out in any way I could despite President Lyndon Johnson’s effort to clamp down on the fight for representation in the interest of a “dignified” convention that would nominate him in his own right after his rise to the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson didn’t want a bunch of civil rights activists muddying the waters and, not incidentally, causing him problems in the conservative, race-based Democratic South.
After much back and forth, the Johnson administration offered a “compromise” proposal that the old guard be seated (provided they pledged to support him) and that two at-large representatives of the MFDP also be seated.
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In the age of the internet, we have access to a vast quantity of information beyond our dreams even twenty years ago. Most of the time, I use this power to look at LOLCats and Buzzfeed articles like "11 Signs You Might be Dating a Pirate."
But as a Christian who feels the weight of caring for the people Jesus called "the least of these," I feel a responsibility to be educated about the plight of the billions of people who live on less than $2 per day around the world (and here in the US, as recently evidenced by the cuts to food stamp programs).
Caring for the poor directly in our neighborhoods is essential to the mission of the local church, and universally, it is the Church’s responsibility to care for the poor in every corner of the planet.