I am a huge fan of Martin Luther King Jr. Ever since I can remember, Dr. King’s speech has moved me in a way that few others can. So when the topic came up during a meeting with a colleague, I felt compelled to write down my reflections on just how much we still need to heed Dr. King’s message today.
Sadly, we don’t need to go far to see that hate is alive and well in our world. The recent presidential debates have consistently rewarded the most hateful answers by candidates with rousing applause. Need we recall the round of applause Rick Perry got when he bragged about the number of executions carried out under his watch; or the question submitted by anti-immigrant group FAIR featured in the Fox/Google: "Are you going to exert an effort to stop the abuse of U.S. citizens by illegals?"
Everywhere we turn we see attempts to divide and oppose. Many “all-stars” in the party of “NO” on Capitol Hill have made earned their stripes by opposing health care, clean air, clean energy, even voting rights. Some leading the charge , as Robert Greenwald wrote are funded by Tea Party backers, Charles and David Koch, who have their hand in everything from ensuring we don’t have clean air to helping the proliferation of voter suppression laws across the country. All of which impact the poor seniors, minorities and disabled citizens the most.
This reality is far from Dr. King’s dream and life’s work of achieving equality.
Unfortunately, even almost 50 years after his death, his dream is still a dream for many. The largest minority groups in the country, African Americans and Latinos, continue to see less wealth, more poverty and worse unemployment than whites. The nation's poverty rate rose last year to 15.1 percent, the highest level in 17 years. The fall was worse for women, Hispanics (about 27 percent) and African-Americans. And if recent years have taught us anything it’s that poverty, for many of us, is only a few paychecks or an illness away from becoming our own reality.
And inequality goes further yet: affecting the well-being of millions of adults and children daily, even in some our greatest cities. Need proof? Pay a visit to your local landfill, toxic dump or coal-burning power plant. Odds are pretty good that the people living near that plant are poor, and in many cases black or Latino. Those of us who are able to drive home, away from these polluted areas, can pretend that we left the impacts of this pollution behind us, but we’re kidding ourselves. Pollution knows no boundaries, and while it may not be clearly present outside our doors, its impacts, like the impacts of hate and inequality, affects us all.
Attacks against environmental protection must be viewed for what they are, attacks on us all, on our health, on our economy and the future of our country. How exactly are we to pretend that people have equal opportunity to thrive and succeed when even breathing clean air is out of reach?
Laws like the Clean Air Act save lives, reduce prevent heart disease, and child illnesses and making it possible for people to live healthy lives so they may then work, learn and thrive.
My hope is that we honor Dr. King’s legacy by supporting a future where clean air, safe food and water, are available to everyone without distinction. Only then can we achieve true equality.