Monday, January 18, 2010

Beyond THE FUTURE: Words I Wish We’d Live By from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This work of art hangs in our study, within sight when one sits at the computer (my usual spot!). It was a gift from my oldest friend who grew up two houses down from me, Michele “Shelly” Holcombe Pisetzner, when she and I were college seniors. Shell has always been a talented artist; a quilting panel she created adorns the cover of my novel (and hangs in a room upstairs).

The text incorporated in Shell’s print came from Dr. King’s 1964 Nobel Lecture. I’ve spent some time this morning visiting two impressive sites that feature this speech and many more made by Dr. King during his short adulthood: The King Institute at Stanford and The Seattle Times on-line King exhibit. And as I read one of Dr. King’s final speeches (given March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral in Washington), I recognized segments of the text from Shell’s print as well as other points Dr. King made that ring remarkably true so many years later.

Think of the poor of Haiti when you read below about the poor in India; think of the tragic, misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when you read below about our tragic, misguided efforts in Vietnam. Then consider where we could be right now if our government had simply done what was right 40 years ago and spent the past four decades pursuing Dr. King’s challenge to care for the poor and stop waging war:

On Poverty
“I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.

“But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.

“As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, ‘Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?’ And an answer came: ‘Oh no!’ Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.’ And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.

“Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.

“I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.

“...And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions—no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, ‘The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.’ She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, ‘How much do you pay for this apartment?’ She said, ‘a hundred and twenty-five dollars.’ I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, ‘It isn’t worth sixty dollars.’ Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.”

On War
“I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, ‘Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.’ The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.

“I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that have ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.
“Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order.”

WHEN will we ever put our house in order? Will we do nothing but look back in another forty years and wish we’d started now?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beyond FUNDRAISING: How to Help Haiti

One of my heros, Britt Bravo of Have Fun * Do Good, just posted this list:

How to Help Haitian Earthquake Survivors

The people of Haiti are going to need a lot of help after [yesterday's] 7.0 earthquake. You can see photos of some of the damage as they come in on PicFog. Below is a quick list of organizations asking for donations. If you know of other ways to help, please post ideas in the comments. I'm particularly interested in hearing about grassroots organizations.

• The American Red Cross is accepting donations for its International Response Fund. You can follow their work on the American Red Cross Disaster Newsroom blog, and on Twitter at @RedCross.

U.S. Fund for UNICEF also needs donations. According to their press release:
"Funds are urgently needed to provide safe water, temporary shelter systems, essential medical supplies etc. . . . Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has a population of 9.6 million inhabitants, of which more than half are under 21 years old."You can follow UNICEF's work on their Field Notes blog, and on Twitter at @UnicefUSA.

Mercy Corps is deploying an emergency team, and is asking for donations. You can follow their work on the Mercy Corps blog, and on Twitter at @mercycorps.

• According to their Twitter feed, Oxfam America is already on the ground in Haiti and is asking for donations. You can follow them on the Oxfam America blog and on Twitter at @oxfamamerica

• Musician Wyclef Jean, who established Yéle Haiti, tweeted, "Help Haiti Earthquake Relief Donate $5 by texting YELE to 501 501 right now please RT." You can follow him on his blog, and on Twitter at @wyclef.

**Cross-posted from A BlogHer commenter also posted a link to an extensive list on the What Gives!? post, Helping Haiti, that you should check out too.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Beyond FREE: Freedom of Expression Series at The Know Something Project

I spend a lot of time working as a writer and editor for a couple of contract employers, with my publisher, Pearl Street Publishing here in Denver, keeping me most busy. Current PSP projects include Imagine A Great Election and The Know Something Project. Via the Know Something Project, which explores issues related to literature, law, publishing, and politics, I’m learning a great deal lately about how many of these areas of interest intersect. Most recently I’ve helped put together a series on Freedom of Expression that includes references not only to the inhumane treatment of Chinese writer-activists by the Chinese government, but to the subtle, increasingly worrisome ways in which our own political and financial centers of power are manipulated, interwoven, and deceptively presented to those who invest in them and are supposed to be served by them.