by John Davis LUCA Advisory Council Chair (Region 8, Local 2195)
On January 20, 2014 the country will pause to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a man of humanity, a man of conviction, a man of peace, a man of the poor, a man of the inflicted, a man of vision and foremost a man of God. His example of passive resistance became a pattern for millions of social activists to follow. On April 4, 1968 an assassin’s bullet ended his life at age 39 and silenced a great voice- a voice that spoke of reason and love in a volatile time.
Dr. King had many detractors. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover devoted untold hours working to bring him down – his house was bombed; he was thrown in jail, had firehouses turned on him and was attacked by dogs. No one could have blamed Dr. King for admonishing these people who did so much against him. However, Dr. King didn’t consider his enemies the greatest threat to equality. One of his most famous quotes goes “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Those are really sobering words; “silence of our friends”. This was a greater disappointment than being slandered by J. Edgar Hoover. If you think about it this makes perfect sense. The enemies were convicted in their feelings. However wrong they may have been, they felt passionate in their mistakes. Dr. King worried more about the people who understood the issues of the day, but chose to ignore them.
These days we are faced with an all-out assault on the poor – a group that Dr. King spent much of his time supporting. At the time of his assassination he was supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee as part of his “Poor People’s Campaign.” The challenges poor people faced in Dr. King’s time paled in comparison to the war that is being waged on them today. In the past year, Congress has passed a multitude of bills that targeted those dependent on the social safety net.
Congress stripped 40 billion dollars from the SNAP (food stamps) program. SNAP is part of a farm subsidies bill that largely supports wealthy landowners. The Food Stamp program has always been funded through the Farm Subsidy Bill that has been in place since the depression to assist struggling family farms during periods of drought and market fluctuations. However, today the corporate farms rule the market and are the largest recipient of federal farm subsidies. The program was designed to help the small farms and to stabilize food prices. The program limits payouts to individual farmers to $40,000 a year. However, crop insurance can exceed that. Corporate farms have partnered with insurance companies to get around that limit. When it comes to crop insurance, the government provides the money to farmers to buy the insurance. The corporate farms plant risky crops and use your tax dollars to hedge that bet through insurance companies. The insurance companies make out through the premiums and the corporate farms make out through the payout of insurance for failed crops that were intended to fail with our tax dollars picking up the tab for the entire thing. When the House renewed the Farm Subsidies legislation, they cut almost $40 billion from Food Stamps while increasing the amount of farm subsidies. A new report show that 40 billionaires last year alone benefited from the rising cost of farm subsidies. These billions are direct payments- the crop insurance added millions more. According to the latest data from the USDA, the largest 1% of farmers received $227,000 each in crop insurance assistance in 2011, while the bottom 80% averaged $5,000 in assistance.
The $40 billion cut from the Food Stamp program will hit vulnerable families to the tune of $36 a month. While that may not sound like a lot, it adds up to $432 a year. If you are living at the poverty line – that is a lot of money. With one in six Americans being hungry, the need is greater than we think. These cuts are on top of federal assistance to programs like Meals on Wheels because of the sequester last spring. Many of our seniors on fixed incomes depend on Food Stamps and Meals on Wheels and both have seen cuts this year. Congress is also pushing for even deeper cuts to Food Stamps with Tennessee Congressional Representative Republican Steve Fincher leading the charge to drop funding for Food Stamps all together from the Farm Bill. Fincher states “Washington doesn’t have a printing press printing money over and over again.” When a fellow Representative sourced the Bible on why we should be funding Food Stamps, Fincher quipped “the Bible says he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.” What makes this entire situation even more troubling is the same Steve Fincher who wants all funding for Food Stamps stripped from the Farm Subsidies bill – from 1999 to 2012 received $3.5 million dollars in farm subsidies. This rich tea party Congressman is content taking $3.5 million of YOUR tax dollars while trying to eliminate funding for hungry children.
Now you may ask “what does this have to do with Dr. King?” I tell you – everything. Dr. King was a voice for the poor and the underprivileged. Since his death no one has been that voice. The wealthy have Fox News, The Heritage Foundation, the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and such to spread their message. However the poor have no one. That voice was silenced 46 years ago. The problem is, too many people who know these things are silent. They sit quietly at church, at PTA meetings, at the ball park as the conservative parrots repeat the lies and deception taught to them by their corporate masters. I can imagine Dr. King crying each time one of his friends sits silently as opposed to challenging these toads to the one percent.
What better way to honor the man than to carry on his work. That means not being silent- but speaking for Dr. King and for those he represented. Another great quote from Dr. King states“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Dr. King’s life mattered- make your life matter by honoring the memory of a great man – don’t be silent. Speak for those voiceless, the downtrodden, the hungry, and the homeless – those in despair. Dr. King wasn’t silent and neither should we be.