Martin Luther King
The part of his legacy I wish was talked about more
On January 17 millions of Americans will stay home from work in honor of Martin Luther King. Even those who are not fortunate enough to get the day off will no doubt be reminded of him as they scroll through their various social media feeds. You will see friends, family, (Especially.) politicians, and even businesses quoting or referencing him, commending his accomplishment and claiming to eximplify some aspect of him. Television shows and podcasts will discuss him at nausea. Almost all of these conversations will be focused in one of two areas, his work on civil rights and voting rights. Now let me be the first to say that he deserves all the recognition he gets in these areas, no question. However I want to ask a question a teacher once posed to my class in gig school, did Martin Luther King want to help the poor? Most of us would answer yes, in fact that was how we all answered in my freshman year of high school too. It seemed obvious, all of us having heard of the March on Washington and his I Have a Dream Speech, his work on the Birmingham Campaign, so we all assumed that he wanted to do something for the poor. With all of us on the same page my teacher asked another question, what did he do for them or was he trying to do for them? Being high school freshmen this may surprise you that none of us could come up with compelling answer. The sad truth is though that most adults, heck many people reading this probably can’t tell you what he was really trying to do for the economically challenged. My teacher though had an answer, The Poor Peopls’s Campaign and a guaranteed income.
During the last year of his life King was focused on shifting the civil rights movement towards combating poverty in what he called the Poor People’s Campaign. The goal of this program was to convince congress to pass bills that would guarantee employment, create enough affordable housing for everyone, and lastly a guaranteed income or universal income in what they called an Economic Bill of Rights. The game plan was to set up a kind of shanty town in Washington DC right outside of congress until the above mentioned legislation was passed. King would be assassinated before these events took place. Although a tent city was set up, without King to spearhead things, it all just sort of fell apart. While we all remember King for his successes I think his unfinished work is just as important.
While many people will tell you they support job programs and affordable housing, guaranteed income is much rarer. For those who don’t know the basics a guaranteed income is when the government cuts everyone a check for a certain amount regularly. Their is debate on if this should be a livable amount meaning you can pay all your bills with it or just a set amount to give people stability. It is an idea that has recently seen a bit of resurgence because of Andrew Yang who made it the cornerstone of his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2020. Though the idea goes back to Thomas More in his book Utopia (1516) and is even supported by billionaires like Elon Musk. So not a unique idea by King but one I think that should be far more discussed when remembering his legacy.
While no one can say what would happen if a true guaranteed income were to instituted we can be relatively assured that it would directly combat poverty in a way no other program has. Always worth remembering that the true divide between rich and poor is not a persons work ethic, character, or even choices, it’s just the number in their bank account.
. In closing I think I will leave you with my favorite MLK quote;
The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Thanks for reading as always and feel free to post this meme wherever. I made it for that point.
Full disclosure an iteration of this article was posted on Medium.