Monday, January 15, 2007

Making Good on MLK's Legacy

SteveG has written a thoughtful piece today on how we "flatten" our nation's heros. Not wanting to participate in such a trite reminiscience of the important legacy of MLK, I want to briefly talk about minimum wage and the working poor. MLK's work, his striving for the beloved community, continues to demand our attention, energy and hearts. We are a country besieged by a large class of the working poor, who even with the increase in the minimum wage, are unable to make ends meet, to secure quality healthcare, to build equity, and to secure a better future for their children.

We still need to take seriously what kind of a country we are if we allow the working poor to continually be on the verge of crushing, demoralizing and dehumanizing poverty. The nation caught a glimpse of this kind of poverty in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but I fear that we haven't really internalized the lessons of that national tragedy. We give lip service to economic development, empowerment and community building, but our answers are far from comprehensive. In my own little town, the most "creative" proposal on the table for economic development was a Casino. Yikes.

How far we have fallen from King's hopes for our future. We think we can lift people out of poverty either by addicting part of population to gambling or by giving workers opportunities at McDonald's and Wal-mart. We need to do better.

A week ago, Jeff Maynes alerted me to an episode of Morgan Spurlock's (the guy who did SuperSize Me) show 30 days, entitled Minimum Wage. Spurlock and his girlfriend decide to live like 30 million Americans (e.g. Working Poor/Living Below the Poverty Level). The episode is eye-opening! Oprah did a segment on it (see here). You can buy the episode on iTunes for $1.99. Go watch it.

UPDATE: If you didn't catch this segment on NPR today, it is worth listening to especially in light of what *I* says in the comments below.