Monthly Archives: January 2012

Story on MLK Rally in local paper

PORT ST. LUCIE — On Jan. 16, Treasure Coast citizens held a rally to commemorate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of social justice.

Adults and children, ranging in age from 3 to 8, held signs reflecting some of King’s core values, including unity and equality.

Co-organizer and Port St. Lucie resident April Nall said she decided to do something after reflecting on King’s message and the continued problem of racism.

“I felt a strong call to do something after listening to Dr. King’s speeches and connecting it to my own families’ financial situation and struggle to live more ethical lives,” said Nall, who brought her three children, ages 3, 7, and 8 to the event.

“It’s also disturbing to become aware that people of color still have to find a way to cope with oppression in our society today, more than underprivileged whites do.”

Participants also sought to remind fellow Port St. Lucie residents of some of King’s often forgotten messages.

Co-organizer and Florida Atlantic University adjunct instructor Dr. Jeffrey Nall notes that in addition to fiercely condemning racism, King died struggling to promote economic justice and nonviolence in both personal relationships and foreign policy.

“Many people don’t realize that Rev. King died a very unpopular man in many circles,” said Dr. Nall. “In his April 4, 1967 speech, ‘Beyond Vietnam,’ he expressed his strident objections to not only interracial violence but also American military violence.”

At the rally, area residents received honks of encouragement as they waved to ongoing traffic. The assortment of signs read “What would MLK do?,” “unity,” “stop racism now,” “peaceful ends through peaceful means,” and “people over profit.”



Why MLK’s Ideas Matter More than Ever

In his April 4, 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”[1] King daringly levied fierce criticism of a society, he argued, that had begun to value objects over people and resort to warfare in the name of peace.

Critical of U.S. military policies Rev. King described the United States as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He also believed that U.S. budgetary priorities of increasing military spending over social programs to be an indication of America’s moral decline. King said:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

In the speech King also addressed economic inequality. He said that America needed to “undergo a radical revolution of values.” Specifically he urged the nation to move from a “thing-oriented society,” valuing “profit motives and property rights” over people, towards a nation who fully honored the value of human life.

King’s message is as poignant and relevant as ever given the contemporary disparity between wealth and power between the rich and poor. Today the richest 400 Americans possess more wealth than the poorest 60% of U.S. Households. As confirmed by, the 2012 net worth of the Forbes 400 was $1.37 trillion dollars, while the poorest 60% of U.S. households was valued at $1.26 trillion dollars.[2]

The 2011 Census Bureau report found that 1 in 6 Americans (46.2 million) lived in poverty in 2010, the highest rate of poverty in 50 years.[3] A separate report found that nearly 1 in 6 Americans (almost 15%) are on food stamps.[4]

Research shows that both people of color and young families are particularly vulnerable to poverty. A Northeastern University study found that, in 2010, 37% of young families with children were living in poverty.[5] A disheartening number of white, non-Hispanics live in poverty, about 20 million or nearly 10%. But the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in poverty is more than twice as high. The poverty rate is 27.4% among blacks and 26.6% among Hispanics.

Indeed, King’s vision of racial equality continues to go unfulfilled for the vast majority of people of color in America. As of December 2011, unemployment rates among blacks are twice that of whites, 15.8% compared to 7.5%.[6] Black unemployment has consistently been double that of white unemployment since the government began tracking such figures in 1972.[7]

According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, adult African Americans were arrested on drug charges at rates that were 2.8 to 5.5 times as high as those of white adults in every year from 1980 through 2007 despite the fact whites and blacks engage in drug offenses at comparable rates.[8]

The volatile cocktail of marginalization, poverty, unemployment, and the unfairly high rates of arrest have led to what some call a human rights crisis in the black community. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and professor of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, said that “in large urban areas, half or more than half of working-age African-American men now have criminal records and are the subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.”[9]

[1] Video/Audio of “Beyond Vietnam”:

[2] PolitiFact “Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined”

[3] Democracy Now. 14 September 2011, “U.S. Census Reports Reveals One in Six Americans Are Poor, One in Five Children Live in Poverty”

[4] Democracy Now. 14 September 2011, “U.S. Census Reports Reveals One in Six Americans Are Poor, One in Five Children Live in Poverty”

[5] Democracy Now. 20 September 2011, “Study: 37 Percent of Young Families with Children Were Living in Poverty Last Year”

[6] CNN. 6 January 2012. “Unemployment falls…but not for blacks.”

[7] CNN. 6 January 2012. “Unemployment falls…”

[8] Human Rights Watch. 2 March 2009. “US: Drug Arrests Skewed by Race.” ; “Decades of Disparity” (report):

[9] Democracy Now. 13 January 2012 “On Eve of MLK Day, Michelle Alexander & Randall Robinson on the Mass Incarceration of Black America”

Stereotyping the Poor

Gingrich to black people: paychecks, not food aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Thursday he is willing to go before the NAACP and urge blacks to demand paychecks, not food stamps.

Gingrich told a town hall meeting at a senior center in Plymouth, N.H., that if the NAACP invites him to its annual convention this year, he’d go there and talk about “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”….

Gingrich’s comments follow those by rival candidate Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania who said Sunday that he did not want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Many fallacious aspects to Gingrich’s comments. Among others, he seems to assume that all (black) people receiving food stamps are not working. But 7% of all those who worked in 2010 were in poverty. Given that being in poverty tends to qualify you for food stamps, it reasons that this number is indicative of those who are working and receiving food stamps. He also doesn’t acknowledge that many receiving food stamps, including children, the elderly, and some with disabilities, are unable to work. Thus urging them to “demand a paycheck” misses the point. His comments also imply that those who aren’t working and receive food stamps are not demanding a paycheck. This simply isn’t true for a significant number of people. Gingrich and Santorum also seem to be overemphasizing the fact blacks receive food stamps. About 1 in 6 Americans receive food stamps, which includes many whites. In fact, half of all those in poverty are white. It’s also too bad Gingrich doesn’t use his platform to identify the way in which racism and the heritage of slavery have played a role in ensuring that better than 25% of all blacks and 25% of all Hispanics live in poverty. This is compared to the disheartening but clearly much better poverty rate among whites, 10%. I’m sure some would attribute this to people of color being lazy. But this would be ignorance at best or racism at worst.

Just published: “Combating Slavery in Coffee and Chocolate Production”

Toward Freedom just published this piece of mine. It examines exploitation in chocolate and coffee labor. Also discusses our ethical obligations and buying fair-trade products. Combating Slavery in Coffee and Chocolate Production