Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the holiday that commemorates the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Civil Rights Movement. It is not, however, just a day dedicated to the struggles of minorities and the working poor, which are groups King often represented. It is a day dedicated to the struggle for the civil liberties of all Americans, for “equal protection” under the Law, and for more responsive government. Where the Civil Rights Movement is traditionally considered an effort to further the interests of minorities, women, and the poor, it was actually a political campaigning to ensure government serves all US citizens.
Through writings, speeches, and demonstrations, Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. championed the need for democratic representation and more responsive governance. Instead of resorting to violence in their pursue of the interests of blacks, disenfranchised workers, and women, the Civil Rights movement used peaceful means to demand the government protect the freedoms and rights of all. In relying on civil disobedience and actionable demands, even in the face of violence, the Civil Rights Movement was able to successful lobby government in service of the disenfranchised. MLK Day reminds the world that it still needs a Civil Rights Movement to ensure government serves the People.
In the Twentieth Century, the Civil Rights Movement focused heavily on racial and gender disparity. Although a tedious process rot with blockades and missteps, straightforward solutions eventually presented themselves, including meaningful, appropriate legislative actions in response to the expressed demands of activists. Consequently, the Civil Rights Movement largely succeeded, thus producing an ideological shift that no longer made it acceptable to value someone based solely on an innate characteristic or a single aspect of that person’s character. Unfortunately, the movement failed to address the broader injustice of inherited poverty that cuts across racial, gender, and cultural bigotry.
The consequence of this failure has been the continued shadow of discrimination in terms of the socioeconomic disparity experienced by generations of poor minorities and women. Sharing their struggle, there has long been a diverse segment of the population largely neglected by the economy while the ranks of the poor only continue to grow as well-paying jobs disappear and the broad consumer base, which brought about economic prosperity in countries like the US, dries up in an alarming number of communities across the Nation. For many in the Civil Rights Movement, access to education is the solution, but it is not enough.
Success in the modern economy hinges on an individual’s ability to function in line with employer and consumer expectations. Individuals seeking financial gains must have the resources to respond to the rapidly changing demands of the economy. Not all educational experiences are equal in economic value, but a growing number of associate and bachelor degree holders lessens the overall value of completing college, thus creating a glut in the job market for educated employees as well as degree inflation. Because those with more affluent backgrounds can better afford to pursue higher levels of education and stay out of the economy longer, they will be able to undercut the educated poor, even when a formal, higher level education is not needed for a job.
Obviously, this is a serious roadblock that exists for the poor while government cannot hope to subsidize everything the poor need to succeed. In fact, doing so would only inflate those needs. Those firmly situated in Middle Class and wealthy families will be better able to compete for what fewer, more lucrative financial opportunities are expected to arise while those who cannot compete will be consigned to be the working poor. The children of the poor will continue to be “legitimately” poor, because they cannot compete for jobs against their more affluent counterparts. Although education is an engine for personal grow and social transformation, extreme economic disparity seriously undercuts the benefits of an education as a lack of economic leverage disenfranchises individuals.
Inequality among Middle Class and wealthy minorities will disappear over the course of time with economic growth, yet inequality will only continue to grow among the economically disenfranchised. Poverty cannot, therefore, be addressed by simply spurring additional macroscopic economic growth and supporting education. Disparity means most of the gains will go to those least in need. Consequently, the economy needs structural changes that afford the majority of individuals greater leverage over the economy. Moreover, civil rights leaders need to focus their efforts on economically empowering all individuals and ensuring greater access to financial opportunities.
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