Last week Bronx Borough President Ruben, NYC Comptroller John Liu, several city council members, clergy members, and thousands of activists showed up in Harlem to call for the passing of the Fair Wages For New Yorkers Act, a bill that guarantees that developers receiving subsidies from New York City pay their employees at least $10.00 with benefits or 11.50 per hour without benefits.
We need to hold a similar demonstration in Brooklyn. Nowhere are stagnant wages more harmful than in an area like Central Brooklyn. As a result, we should be helping to lead this living wage struggle.
The organizers of the living wage campaign timed their Harlem demonstration to coincide with the celebration of the late Martin Luther King’s life, who would have been turning 82. When thinking of the fight for a living wage, it’s hard not to acknowledge that King was defending the rights of Memphis sanitation workers on the day he was assassinated.
Which is not to say that Martin Luther King would have joined this campaign if he were alive. One of the more absurd exercises that pundits indulge in every year around this time, is speculation about what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say and do if he were walking the earth today.
The fact is, we have no idea how King would have evolved as an activist and leader. Would he have become more progressive or more conservative? How would his advancing age, maturity and family conditions change his world view? Would he have run for office like his colleagues Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and John Lewis? How would he have reacted to the events of 9/11? Would he have felt compelled to support Barack Obama, or would he have aggressively held him accountable?
To suggest that we could ever know the answers to these questions and chain of events is like claiming we can predict what the outdoor temperature and weather conditions will be like every day for the next forty years.
Like other heroes from our past who were cut down in their prime, prevented from weighing in on the social issues and cultural transitions that survived them, Martin Luther King Jr. will forever be frozen in time, a static figure upon which we can do little else but project our own personal sense of social justice.
That’s why recent remarks from an Obama administration pentagon official, saying Dr. King would have supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are particularly appalling and reckless. It’s one thing to offer conjecture. But it is remarkably cynical to suggest that a man who dedicated himself to non-violence would become a cheerleader for present day aggression. And it ignores what King said about the overseas conflict in Vietnam being a tragic use of resources when there were so many pressing domestic needs. Sound familiar? We celebrate King, not by predicting how he would function in today’s echo chamber, but by accurately remembering what he did and using it to inspire us today. That’s why those of here at the Brooklyn Movement Center will honor Dr. King by joining the city-wide living wage campaign. Call us at 718.953.1110 in order to stand with us. Perhaps the best way we can continue King’s legacy of economic justice is to simply do what he would have done forty three years ago.