Let’s talk about economic justice

Yesterday was a big day here in the United States as we officially welcomed Barack Obama into a second term as commander in chief of this great though fractured nation. It was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day also known as MLK Day. A day where we pay homage to the memory of a great man and over the years we have made it a day on and not a day off by being of service to the less fortunate among us. I have a few thoughts about that…so grab a drink, sit back and relax, while I babble.

My father grew up in the rural south as the son of sharecroppers; I have grown up hearing the tales of what life was like in the cotton patch. My father went to segregated schools, drank from the Blacks only water fountain and was almost a teenager before his folks had indoor plumbing. When you consider that my father is just turning 60, that is absolutely mind-blowing to me. It also means that he was alive and old enough to recall what the living Martin Luther King Jr. was about and while the focus in modern times is on the “I have a Dream” speech and racial equality, the truth is that was only part of King’s overall vision of justice.

Towards the end of King’s life he started working more and more for economic justice, King’s last book was Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community and one of the major ideas he espoused was the idea that everyone should have what they need to live. Think on that for a moment. In fact at the time of his assassination, King was working to organize the Poor People’s Campaign.  I won’t bore you with the details, but needless to say, I think there is a reason that King’s legacy has been boiled down to service to others and racial equality. Make no mistake, these things are very important but without recognizing how insidious economic inequality is and working to level the economic playing field, injustice still exists on a mass scale. Sure, we now have a Black president but Black unemployment rates are astronomical. We have allowed a few people of difference access to the gains that allow us to feel good and pat ourselves on the back and think “gee, the world is better” but is it really? I am not so sure that it is.

An uneven economic playing field means that some of us will have all the tools we need to live fully rounded and fulfilled lives whereas the rest of us are limited in reaching our potential. For some of us the struggle just to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table will consume all our waking hours, for others the despair that comes from crushing debt will keep us from actualizing our dreams and hopes as we are tethered to jobs we don’t like because we see no other way out. Though we will pacify ourselves with the thought that it could be worse, after all we do have a house, food, etc. Never mind that the cost to our souls and psyches is staggering.

Oddly enough it was the realization this morning that all forms of self-improvement are out of reach for many and that for so many in this country, they can only dream of a better life with no hope of making it a reality. We have told so many that a college education is the key to a better life, that schools using free market principles are out of reach or create crushing debt so that this so-called better life isn’t a dream but a nightmare.

In the past several years as I have embarked on my own personal campaign to create a better me, I have been stunned at how much the tools cost to create that better life can be. A much needed retreat equals hundreds of dollars. Conferences that might allow me the networking opportunities I need to grow my writing into something more, also hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Sure, I am not starving and these things are not true necessities and while I am more than aware of that fact and thankful for all that I have especially when my daily work reminds me that so many have it much worse, it doesn’t take away from the fact that an uneven playing field is limiting to all of us.

Granted, we are in so deep in this culture that realistically I don’t know if true economic justice is even possible. However on the eve of my birthday, one of the few constants in my being is that I believe change and dreams are necessary. I want to believe that a world can exist where people are capable of more than just living but thriving and reaching their full potential. Where access for those who want more is not limited by their lack of financial resources, crazy? I admit though that closer to home; I am heartened by groups such as Justice in the Body in Portland, Maine where their mission is “Justice in the Body is a socially responsible education, training and movement center devoted to integrating well-being, love, justice and liberation with individuals, groups and social movements.”  They do this by offering yoga and related classes all for $5. As anyone who has ever attempted to practice yoga knows, class costs are often a barrier for many, so even seemingly baby steps within a community such as $5 classes have the ability to plant the seeds for change. This is the type of change I would like to see on a larger scale, more access with the so-called small things might lead us to larger systemic changes.

PS: It seems today marks 5 years of blogging; my first blog post was on January 22, 2008. This blog might be my 3rd longest relationship ever excluding my family of origin. Yikes!

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