Palestine, Martin Luther King, & the Poor People’s Campaign
Three major evils – the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war. These are the three things that I want to deal with today, these three evils are tied together – the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. … We have left ourselves as a nation morally and politically isolated in the world. We have greatly strengthened the forces of reaction in America, and excited violence and hatred among our own people. We have diverted attention from civil rights. During a period of war, when a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs inevitably suffer. People become insensitive to pain and agony in their own midst …
These words, excerpted from Martin Luther King’s May 10, 1967, “America’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” were delivered at the Hungry Club Forum at Atlanta’s Butler Street YMCA, where white politicians could meet (secretly) with black leaders who were barred from many civic groups.
Also in May 1967, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference retreat, he announced to staff members that the movement for civil rights needed to be extended to full human rights, “a radical redistribution of economic and political power, … an era of revolution.” He marshalled the voices of poor people for a “Poor People’s Campaign” for a March on Washington in 1968, bringing to Washington “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses,” in order to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
And even though King was assassinated in April, the Poor People’s March climaxed in Washington DC on June 19, 1968, with over 50,000 people gathering at Resurrection City, a shantytown constructed on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Fast forward 50 years, tomorrow, Saturday, June 23, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival marches once again on Washington DC (and around the country), focusing on King’s “triple evils – systemic racism, poverty and inequality, war economy and militarism,” and adding a fourth, “ecological devastation,” and launching the movement’s next phase. (https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/demands/)
It’s all connected, he was saying, that not poverty, militarism and American hegemony overseas, not excess materialism brought about by capitalist injustice, not the movement for civil rights for African-Americans, not workers’ rights, not the devastation to the planet’s natural resources – none of these things are isolated nor are they special interests. They are all interconnected, they all intersect, the injustices of each magnify the injustices of the others. That is why King emphasized the need for the poor, no matter their race, ethnicity, or religion, to come together to reclaim their dignity, their rights, and their economic, political, and moral power.
So today, while our nation’s eyes are rightly focused on our southern border with families being forcibly separated, children torn from their mothers’ arms, we must also remember that this has been a way of life for Palestinian families for decades, that the Israeli military regularly and as a matter of policy, infiltrates into Palestinian villages in the middle of the night, breaks down front doors, rousts children and youth out of their beds, and transports them to Israeli military prisons outside the West Bank in Israel, not informing parents where they’re being taken. And – sound familiar? – all in the name of national security.
And while the eyes of many on the political, social, and religious left rightly look to tomorrow’s March on Washington for a progressive moral and political (and religious) voice, where were these same “progressive” voices during the recent (and continuing) Great March of Return in Gaza where Palestinians, like their US marginalized counterparts, were demonstrating – non-violently – for their dignity, their rights, and their economic, political, and moral power and being picked off indiscriminately by Israeli snipers – men, women, children, journalists, health care workers?
What Israel is visiting upon Palestinians is the civil and human rights issue of our time (what you do about Palestine says everything about what you believe about justice and human rights) … because Palestine is integrally interrelated with the quadruple evils of the Poor People’s Campaign – the United States’ and Israel’s national security apparatus (as I write this, 20,000 more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being housed in US military housing), their imperial ambitions in the broader Middle East, and each nation’s increased - and ever increasing - militarized economy, growing on the back of both nation’s poor.
Our voices are needed now more than ever and we at Indiana Center for Middle East Peace join our voices with others not only in condemning the inhumane policies of our own government dealing with the poor and marginalized but also in its criminalizing criticism of Israel both at the federal and state levels.
We stand with all who seek a safe harbor on our shores, all who seek asylum fleeing oppression at home, and all refugees, and lift our voices with our sisters and brothers at the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC and around the country tomorrow; we stand against the racist policies of both governments inflicted upon people of color; and further, we stand in the strongest possible solidarity, arm in arm, with our sisters and brothers in Palestine against Israeli aggression and a fully complicit and immoral US regime.
1. Attend the Stop ICE Rally tomorrow, Saturday, June 23, 1:00-3:30pm, at the Allen County Courthouse, sponsored by the Latino Democrats of Allen County;
2. Contact your national and state senators and representatives;
3. Educate yourself about the intersection between the injustice in our country and the systematic Israeli oppression of Palestinians; then start a book discussion group in your home; or invite friends to watch a film together in your home (we at ICMEP can recommend books, films, websites, and other resources);
4. Invite your friends to attend ICMEP events (check out our website – indianacmep.org - or contact me);
5. Make a donation to ICMEP, Friends of Sabeel North America, or to another organization of your choice, working for justice, for civil and human rights.
Once more, from that same King sermon of May 10, 1967:
For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that. I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns. And we must know on some positions, cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there are times when you must take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but you must do it because it is right.