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President Obama promised immigration activists that reforming America’s broken immigration policy would be one of his highest priorities during his second term, and it looks like he intends to follow through on that promise. Republican senators are now working on a compromise and some, like John McCain, believe that enacting comprehensive immigration reform will help [...]
A man in Texas has claimed discrimination after he was rejected by Six Flags when he tried to ride a roller coaster. Michael Green waited in line for an hour to ride the Texas Giant,and was told that he could not get on the ride because he has no hands. “I’m very furious, sir,” he [...]
Hitting the lottery once in a lifetime will never happen to most of us, but Brian Brockington just hit the criminal justice system jackpot, not once, not twice, but three times. DNA evidence has linked him to three sexual assaults, but lucky old Brian will soon be released from prison without ever serving a single day for any of the assaults in question. So is Brian Brockington just one of the “luckiest” men alive? Perhaps. But he had some help. Continuing the lotto metaphor, you could say the powers that be screwed up and now all of us have to pay up, starting with the women DNA evidence links him to assaulting. Or in casino terms one might say the slot machines are severely broken and those in charge of the house haven’t made repairing them a priority. As a result we’ll likely see a lot more Brian Brockingtons winning the criminal lotto in coming years. Allow me to explain. As reported in the New York Daily News : Brockington, 35, was arrested on rape charges in 2007 and his cousin Rodney Howard, 36, was arrested two years later after their DNA matched evidence from a 1993 gun-point attack on a 29-year-old woman. But because of a police backlog, the DNA evidence from the crime wasn’t processed for nearly a decade — and prosecutors filed charges a day after the crime’s 10-year statute of limitations expired, said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx DA. The DA’s office realized their error only after the cousins were arrested — and prosecutors were forced to drop the rape charges. Brockington was subsequently linked to two other sexual assaults. The scary thing about the Brockington case (you know, besides the fact that an alleged serial rapist will likely soon be walking among us) is that the current system virtually insures that Brockington will not be the last alleged rapist set free by what some are calling a “technicality” but increasingly looks like willful legal negligence. Not simply on the part of police and prosecutors, but on the part of legislators. In interviews with representatives from organizations dedicated to aiding survivors of sexual assault and improving the criminal justice system’s prosecution of sex crimes, I learned that as the current system stands the release of the Brian Brockingtons of the world is virtually inevitable, caused by a nearly perfect storm of the following: Ã¢Â€Â¢ Only five states in America have no statute of limitations for any felony, meaning any felony crime can be prosecuted at any point at which prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence, even if the alleged crime took place decades earlier. Ã¢Â€Â¢ Only 27 states have explicit DNA exceptions on the books rendering statute of limitations non-enforceable or significantly widening the time frame for such limitations should DNA evidence link a suspect to a crime. Ã¢Â€Â¢ The Justice Department estimates there are at least 100,000 rape kits from unsolved sex crime cases waiting to be tested at labs around America. Ã¢Â€Â¢ The actual amount of evidence waiting testing nationwide is much higher than 100,000, because before DNA collection became the norm there was no universal standard for storage of such evidence. This means there is an untold amount of evidence stored in unknown places and unaccounted for, some of it misplaced and misfiled for decades. You do the math. This means that in a plurality of states, regardless of whether or not DNA evidence successfully links a perpetrator to past crimes, there is very little our criminal justice system can do to insure that perpetrator will serve any time. The reason? Because of a woefully antiquated and inept system that at the very least has been slow to adapt to the 21st century, and at the very worst has consciously chosen to treat sex crimes as low on the list of legislative and prosecutorial priorities. Despite advancements in DNA technology a number of states still adhere to arcane statute of limitations provisions, meaning regardless of what evidence is unearthed that crime may not be prosecuted. “The rationale behind statute of limitations is that memories fade. DNA doesn’t fade. It’s good forever,” said Scott Berkowitz, President of RAINN , the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. “As long as you have the evidence, you should be able to use it anytime you finally identify the suspect.” But even those states that have attempted to address the statute of limitations problem have left loopholes in them so big a truck could drive through or more accurately, a criminal can escape through. For instance, while the New York state legislature bowed to pressure in 2006 and finally amended state law to eradicate statute of limitations for class B felonies, covering those deemed the most serious sex crimes such as first degree rape, a host of sex crimes are not covered. “We wouldn’t be able to prosecute a case like Penn State here in New York,” Joe Farrell, a spokesperson for New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault said, referring to child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University. That means even if DNA evidence was discovered, such as a piece of one of the victim’s clothing linking Sandusky to a crime, there would be nothing anyone could do to prosecute in the state of New York. “Ideally we would like to see the removal of all statute of limitations for such crimes to allow for delayed reporting.” But the legal challenges presented by statute of limitations provisions represent one broken cog in a piece of machinery full of defects. In many jurisdictions the processing of DNA evidence is so backlogged that as the statute of limitations clock ticks, with the ability to prosecute certain cases drawing to a close, the DNA evidence that could be used to prosecute said cases sits unanalyzed. There have even been instances in which a perpetrator was in custody for another crime, but because a rape kit had not been processed in a timely manner he was released before he was eventually linked to an unsolved sexual assault. Some states, New York among them, have been shamed into doing the right thing and clearing the backlog. (Though the rape charges against Brian Brockington were just dropped days ago, the case represents a holdover from the years before the statute of limitations law was changed and the backlog was cleared in New York, illustrating the dangers other states face by not properly addressing those two issues immediately.) But plenty of other states have thousands of rape kits waiting to be tested, with the cities Detroit and Houston being among the worst offenders. (Click here to see an in-depth report on this issue from CBS News in 2009.) According to one expert interviewed, Houston represents a troubling, yet perfect example of just how badly broken the system is. It was originally believed there were a couple of thousand untested kits in the city, until thousands more were discovered in facilities other than labs. If every major city is like Houston — and it is believed that many are — then we have absolutely no way of knowing just how bad the backlog really is. We just know that it is bad. As this expert pointed out, “Part of the problem is that law enforcement is hesitant to invest resources in testing kits related to non-stranger assaults. Of course the problem is there are perpetrators who may assault someone they know as well as victimize strangers, but law enforcement may never make that connection because those kits are not being tested.” (She asked that her name not be used since she is not the designated spokesperson for the organization she works with.) So what, if anything, can we all do to prevent future Brian Brockingtons from winning the criminal lotto? For starters: 1) Contact your member of Congress and urge them to support H.R. 1523, “The S.A.F.E.R. Act.” S.A.F.E.R. stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry. Co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Ted Poe, The S.A.F.E.R. Act would create a national database of rape kits maintained by the Justice Department and would require local jurisdictions to inventory all kits in their possession. It would also allow law enforcement to track which kits are attached to cases in which the statute of limitations window is drawing to a close. 2) If you live in a state that still has statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes (and chances are you probably do) contact your state legislators and request that they amend the law. (To see which states have the worst statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes, or as I call them “predator friendly states,” please click here .) If you would like to learn about other ways in which you can help, such as signing a petition in support of The S.A.F.E.R. Act, or to access contact information for your elected officials, or review the statute of limitations law in your state please click here Let’s all do our part to make sure that fewer Brian Brockingtons are set free. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.
This week a $25 billion settlement was announced in which big banks pay up for a portion of their bad deeds in the home foreclosure crisis. Everyone is trying to determine whether this is a good deal or a bad deal. Here is how I score it. This deal represents small progress on a small problem. Now it’s time to make big progress on the big problem. Don’t count on finding many good points in the deal itself, because there aren’t a lot. In fact, the main win can be found in what’s NOT in the deal. A truly horrible deal would have let the banks write a small check and then seal the door on all further investigations and pursuits of accountability. This deal does NOT do that. Because this settlement limits legal immunity for banks, this deal does not automatically let the banks off the hook for all of their wrong-doing. Except for a few issues like robo-signing, state attorneys general can still fight for more compensation and relief for the banks’ victims. Government officials can proceed with investigating and prosecuting banks for their role in crashing the economy and the housing market. In other words, the door is still open to solve the much bigger problems we face. Our fight for justice can, and will, continue. That is small comfort, perhaps, but it was hard won. So we should honor the hard work of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and others, including many grassroots progressive organizations like New Bottom Line. They fought courageously to prevent a total sweetheart deal for the banks. This outcome is the result of determined activism, and without this heroic effort, the deal would have been drastically worse. That said, there is a reason why many progressives and housing advocates are furious, and why many struggling homeowners are left wondering, “How does this help me?” Millions of homeowners and families are still suffering under the tremendous weight of a debt blanket that is smothering the economy. This $25 billion settlement helps only a fraction of those homeowners and addresses only a very limited set of fraudulent behaviors. A number of homeowners will get some cash payments, but the amounts are negligible compared to the pain and injustice they have experienced. The actual total cash paid out by the banks is only $5 billion dollars, to be split among the nation’s largest banks — hardly a stiff penalty considering that the six largest banks in the U.S. paid $144 billion in bonuses last year. And enforcement mechanisms remain murky. We must not forget the more than 14 million homeowners (one in five) whose homes are underwater, beneath a crushing total $700 billion in negative equity. We must not forget the more than 4 million families who have lost their homes. We must not forget the millions of families who are in some form of foreclosure proceedings on this very day. These are the Americans who have suffered and continue to suffer. They are worried today, like yesterday, whether they will still have a home to live in tomorrow. They are the ones who must choose every month whether to pay bills or to feed their children. Here are three things that must happen next: 1) The U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general must investigate and prosecute banks more aggressively than ever, at a much larger scale than anything that has happened to date. 2) We must force banks to make massive principal reduction of hundreds of billions of dollars, to immediately relieve the 14 million homeowners in the country who have underwater mortgages. 3) We must change laws and regulations to prevent this kind of crisis and fraud from ever happening again. Two weeks ago, I called for hundreds of billions in principal reduction for homeowners. This would free up Americans to start new businesses, spend money on worthwhile products and services, and invest in their children’s futures. We still need to address the $700 billion in negative equity, which in turn is only part of the nearly seven trillion dollars in total lost equity created by the banks’ irresponsible, and in some cases, illegal practices. We need a solution at the scale of the problem, so that families can get back on their feet, the economy can get working, and people can reach for their American dreams again instead of watching them drown. That is why I say: $25 billion down, $675 billion to go.
In public relations, ‘spin’ is the term people use when they would like a topic or story covered in a specific manner, in a certain light. In the realm of politics, unfortunately, some elected officials and their mouthpieces like to apply the same tactics while masking the truth from everyone. Case in point: contraception and the Catholic Church. Before falling victim to the hype, let’s get one thing clear, this issue isn’t about religious freedom or the federal government; it is about the rights of women all across this country to have access to appropriate care. It is about protecting the rights of those workers at religious institutions who may not be of that faith (and have no choice but to find work there), but deserve the same health care that a woman in corporate America does. This is about the notion that some religiously affiliated hospitals and schools receive federal money and therefore cannot deny a woman a federal guarantee. Let’s get one thing straight, this is real ‘class warfare’ from the right and this time the victims are the most vulnerable — women from lower-income neighborhoods. Everyday, women from all corners of this nation head to work in religious Catholic hospitals and universities providing the necessary services so many of us rely on. Even in my hometown of New York City, many of the finest hospitals are religiously affiliated, and simultaneously staffed by an overwhelming number of women from the outer boroughs of Manhattan or from poorer neighborhoods within the city. In the unfortunate circumstance that you fall gravely ill in the Big Apple, chances are pretty high that a nurse, secretary, orderly, etc. helping to save your life works at this institution not because of her unyielding faith to religion, but because of her dedication to helping others. And though we may not want to face reality, often times, this woman is working at this facility because there simply are no other options available for her to provide for her family. Don’t these women deserve the same rights as those on Wall St.? Why should they be denied access to contraception because their employer may be religiously opposed to the idea? If an institution is employing women from all sectors of society, how can they possibly dictate what these women can and cannot do when it comes to their own bodies? As pundits and legislators scream about the federal government infringing on the religious rights of people, they might want to remember that many of these religious facilities have no trouble accepting federal aid. From Medicare to Medicaid and more, these institutions are taking taxpayer money to provide services, and should therefore provide appropriate coverage for their own employees. You cannot accept money from the federal government and then turn around and say ‘federal government, you must do what I say’. This is hypocrisy at its highest and a coy attempt at slowly stripping away the liberties of all women. First, they will attack those without a voice; tomorrow, they will attack you. There’s a reason why most women — including Catholic women — use birth control and have no objection to its widespread usage. Unlike what the spin-doctors would have you believe, birth control pills aren’t only utilized to prevent pregnancies, but rather a multitude of women use them for other health care needs. From regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle to preventing ovarian problems, women everywhere take birth control as a means of protecting their own health, their bodies and the health of their future children. No one should be denied that right. As Republicans realize more and more everyday that their potential candidate (whoever that may be) doesn’t present a real challenge to the President, they will continue to fabricate these sorts of social wedge issues. Playing games with people’s beliefs, they will try to make us think that President Obama is somehow infringing on our religious freedoms, when he in fact already exempted over 300,000 Churches from this rule. But when a religious institution employs people of all faiths and services people from all faiths, they have no right to obstruct women from having access to vital services. If it’s women today, tomorrow they could just as easily decide to stop offering coverage to homosexuals, divorced individuals or any other group. Where would you draw the line? Don’t believe the spin, this isn’t about religious freedom, this isn’t about the President, this isn’t about states’ rights; it’s about women — all women — having the ability to control their own health and well-being. And no man, hospital or university should ever be allowed to tell them otherwise.
All of us have survived the awkwardness of a friend’s breakup or divorce and having to endure the inevitable social pressure to choose sides. Perhaps the only thing more awkward than telling one friend that you won’t be attending his upcoming wedding to the woman he left your other friend for is choosing sides only to find out that against all odds, your friends are actually reconciling, and every horrible thing you said to one about the other, like, “I always thought you were too good for him anyway,” the formerly soon-to-be-ex now knows. Welcome to the world of those of us who care about women’s health. It’s been a whirlwind week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Planned Parenthood and any woman or man who cares about both organizations. The Komen Foundation’s initial withdrawal of funding from Planned Parenthood, the ensuing backlash and subsequent reversal and reconciliation has left many reeling. For some, the end result means the matter is resolved and it is simply time to move on. Others feel as though healing is not that easy, and they’ve been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, philanthropic edition. Regardless of where you stand on the issue — and which member of the couple you took sides with during this trial separation — there are lessons all of us who care about women’s health and social change can glean from this saga. A few of them are below. Feel free to weigh in with your own in the comments section. 7. Despite a complicated history, wealthy white women and poor minority women know that we are all in this together. Wealthy white women and poor women of color have a complex history. Since our nation’s inception, white women of means have relied on poor women of color to help them keep their homes and care for their families. (Some of my own family members did just that.) As stories like The Help have reminded us, such relationships have bred empathy and unbreakable bonds across barriers of race and class among some, while fueling resentment among others. These resentments burst into the open during the feminist movement when many women of color, who had struggled to find a place within the civil rights movement where they encountered sexism, felt equally excluded from the mainstream feminist movement because of racism and classism. Komen-gate briefly reopened old wounds. Watching Komen founder Nancy Brinker , a former ambassador with the Bush administration, trying desperately to undo one of the worst philanthropic PR implosions in recent memory while decked out in her crisp suits, expensive jewelry and perfectly coifed hair, it was hard not see a woman who has probably never thought about how her maid pays for her breast exams. Luckily, there were plenty of other powerful, educated women who do think about such things, and who recognized that when it comes to women’s health we’re all in this together. Those women made their voices heard, online and with their wallets, and because of them more low-income women — many of them of color — will continue to receive the lifesaving healthcare that they need. 6. Women’s health is not a women’s issue. Women’s health issues are often talked about in the media and in the world of politics as if they only matter to women. But for every female activist, legislator and voter whose life has been touched by a gender specific health scare, be it breast cancer or a high-risk pregnancy, there is a man whose life they have touched. Many of those men came out in full force this week, among them Mayor Michael Bloomberg whose $250,000 matching pledge to Planned Parenthood inspired the Livestrong Foundation, founded by cycling legend and cancer-survivor Lance Anrmstrong, to pledge $100,000 to the organization. 5. Cancer doesn’t care what color you are, or how much money you have, but plenty of politicians do. The timing was oddly apropos. The same week that Mitt Romney declared that he’s ” not concerned about the very poor ,” because they enjoy “safety nets,” the Komen controversy reminded us that those so-called safety nets don’t catch everybody when they fall. Black women are statistically more likely to die from breast cancer than other women due to the disease often being caught later. Early detection is key, but when you are poor preventative medical care is a luxury, and race is still very much intertwined with the politics of poverty in our country. What I find confusing is that many of the same politicians who oppose funding for Planned Parenthood also oppose universal healthcare reform. I thought part of the rationale for opposing universal healthcare was the belief that private organizations should step in to fill the void of government when it comes to addressing the needs of the needy. Isn’t that precisely what Planned Parenthood was doing by providing breast cancer screenings to low income-women? Groups like Planned Parenthood literally save lives, which brings me to number 4… 4. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion group. Planned Parenthood and it’s supporters will likely look back on the last few days as among the most important — and empowering — in the nearly century old organization’s existence. Not only has the Komen controversy provided Planned Parenthood with a fundraising bonanza (it raised $3 million dollars since the Komen news first became public) but it provided the group with something much more valuable: the kind of public relations money can’t buy. For years, Planned Parenthood has been losing the messaging war to conservatives, intent on depicting it as nothing more than a well-oiled killing machine. (Sen. Jon Kyl famously, or rather infamously, accused Planned Parenthood of spending 90 percent of its services on abortion. The real figure is 3 percent but that fact didn’t matter to many.) I had family members who thought that Planned Parenthood was synonymous with abortion. Not any more. Now thanks to Komen-gate everyone and their mother — literally — know that Planned Parenthood is just what it has always proclaimed itself to be: a women’s health organization, helping women to address their reproductive needs, and to receive lifesaving exams to help protect them from breast cancer. 3. Men in power that use birth control when they need it see nothing wrong with using their power to deprive women in need from using it. When I found out that Sen. David Vitter was among the elected officials spearheading the investigation into Planned Parenthood that was blamed for the Komen Foundation’s initial plans to terminate grants to the organization, I thought I was reading a headline from The Onion . In case you have forgotten, Sen. Vitter was enmeshed in a sex scandal involving a prostitute (at least I think it was “a prostitute,” for all I know it could have been several) and let’s just say firsthand accounts, courtesy of the escort service, make it clear that Vitter very much believes in using contraception. Apparently men in power trying to avoid political scandal should have easy access to contraception. It’s just poor women, reliant on groups like Planned Parenthood, who shouldn’t. Vitter is not alone in his thinking. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich condemned the Obama administration’s ruling to make contraception available to all women, regardless of who their employer is, under the new healthcare law. Of course, the obvious question that leaves many of us with is, did he feel that way years ago, when his current wife/then-girlfriend Callista was in childbearing years, he was married to someone else and leading the charge to investigate the president for a scandal stemming from an affair. I don’t know the answer but he or his campaign representatives are welcome to weigh in with a response in the comments below. Click here to see the top two lessons. Keli Goff www.keligoff.com is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor to Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared.
Rumor has it that on Monday, after months of negotiation with big banks, the White House may announce a settlement that would let the banks off the hook for their role in the foreclosure crisis — paying a tiny fraction of what’s needed in exchange for blanket immunity from future lawsuits. We hope these rumors are untrue. President Obama has the ability to stop and change the direction of this sweetheart deal. He should reject any deal that benefits the one percent and lets the big banks get away with their crimes. Instead, the president should stand with the 99 percent and push for real accountability and a solution that will help millions of people in this country. Here are the hard facts about the housing crisis we face: 3.5 million Americans are homeless. 18.5 million homes sit vacant. Since 2007, more than 7.5 million homes have been foreclosed. Default and foreclosure rates are now several times higher than at any time since the Great Depression. If President Obama is serious about solving this crisis, he must ensure three things: First: The banks must pay a minimum $300 billion in principal reduction for homeowners with underwater mortgages and/or restitution for foreclosed-on families. This is essential. Every effort to date to reboot the housing market has failed because it has not done the most essential thing — actually reduce the massive debt load carried by homeowners. As it stands, the deal likely to be announced Monday would have the banks pay only $20 billion, an astonishingly small fraction of what’s needed. Add up all the underwater homes in America, and there’s an estimated $700 billion in negative equity in the country, according to a recent study . If banks fix what they broke and write down principals for all underwater mortgages, this would free up millions of people to pump billions of dollars back into local economies, create jobs, and ultimately generate revenue to help invest in things that will help our economy grow. Second: There must be a full-fledged, full-blown investigation into Wall Street financial fraud by the Department of Justice. There should be a task force with the staff resources, the authority, and the explicit mission of seriously investigating fraudulent behavior in the way home mortgages were securitized. Reports of the current deal suggest banks could walk away without any actual investigation into their role in the housing crisis. Third: There should be no civil or criminal immunity for the banks from future lawsuits. That means there should be no broad release of claims in any current or future negotiation or settlement. The banks must pay to help solve the crisis they played such a big role in creating. They can afford it. U.S. banks raked in $35 billion in profits last summer alone and are currently sitting on a historically high level of cash reserves of $1.64 trillion. The six biggest banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — hold assets totaling $9.5 trillion; and together paid an income tax rate of only 11% in 2009 and 2010, far below the federally mandated 35% corporate tax rate. And that’s not all. Despite their bleak performance this year, the nation’s top six banks paid out $144 billion in bonuses and compensation for 2011, second only to the record $147 billion they paid out in 2007 at the height of the economic boom. While banks enjoy record profits and the prospect of total immunity, millions of Americans are drowning in underwater mortgages. Everyday people are already out front, fighting against the malfeasance of the banks; the White House should stand with them. Our national leaders need look no farther than Atlanta, GA, for an instructive profile in courage. Earlier this month, a community church in Dr. Martin Luther King’s old neighborhood refused to be ignored. In 2008, a tornado devastated the historic, 108-year-old Higher Ground Empowerment Center church, and they were forced to take out a loan to cover repairs. The loan went underwater and became harder and harder to pay back. For nearly four years, the church asked the bank to modify their loan, but BB&T bank ignored them. Instead, last week, the bank started to evict the church. Sound familiar? Anyone with an underwater mortgage can tell you: banks these days just can’t seem to treat their own customers with decency and manners. However, after Occupy Atlanta staged a high-profile press conference, and 65,000 people signed a national petition by Rebuild the Dream, the church got BB&T bank to agree to modify their loan to something affordable and reasonable. This happy ending is, unfortunately, the rare exception. BB&T, after being shaken to their senses (and shamed in the media), came to the table and did the right thing. But millions of homeowners have no way to stage protests and press conferences. Abuse, fraud, conflicts of interest, and lawlessness have been endemic at every stage of the mortgage origination and foreclosure process. This chain of misconduct by many of the nation’s largest financial companies is at the root of the foreclosure avalanche and it’s time to demand a course of action that will resolve the current crisis and create jobs in the future. If these folks in Atlanta can show this level of courage in standing up to a big bank, then certainly Obama and state attorneys general can show the same courage. The banks got their bailout. Now we need a strong and fair settlement to help Americans drowning in underwater mortgages. Van Jones is the co-founder and president of Rebuild the Dream , a new national organization working to fix America’s economy and restore our democracy. George Goehl is the executive director of National People’s Action , a network of metropolitan and statewide membership organizations dedicated to advancing economic and racial justice. National People’s Action is a leading organization within a national coalition called New Bottom Line that challenges established big bank interests on behalf of struggling and middle-class communities.
Every year, we pay homage to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the month of January. Most offices are closed, kids are home from school and people generally enjoy the day off from their normal routines. But how many of us take the time to emulate Dr. King’s teachings? How many of us actually understand the fight he waged on our behalf? How many of us emulate his nonviolent dedication to defending the poor and seeking economic justice in society? In 2012, instead of just verbally praising Dr. King, we should continue his quest for equality and tackle today’s greatest civil rights challenges: leveling the playing field for everyone, fighting voter suppression, establishing stricter gun laws, a commitment to end international potential warfare and providing a quality education in our most impoverished areas. Then and only then will we truly understand the depth and meaning of celebrating Dr. King’s life, legacy and purpose. One of Dr. King’s last efforts prior to his untimely death was the Poor People’s Campaign. Combating issues of economic justice and housing for the poor, the campaign included an ‘Economic Bill of Rights’, and efforts to lobby elected officials to pass progressive legislation. Because Dr. King intently understood that the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in society were the poor, he dedicated much of his own life to giving them a platform, fighting for their rights and creating a society where they would no longer be dehumanized. Today, as many politicians cut vital programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance, the poor are increasingly watching their concerns fall on deaf ears and their voices drowned out in a sea of political wrangling. That is precisely why we cannot sit silently in the face of oppression. Until the weakest among us are afforded the same opportunities as the wealthiest, we cannot in good conscious accept that the fight for justice is complete. One of the greatest civil rights achievements we ever obtained was the capability to vote. Long denied the very basic ability to participate in the electoral process of the nation we helped construct, African Americans spent years post-slavery battling poll taxes and other discriminatory practices in order to secure the promise of one man, one vote. After some literally gave their lives so that others could one day participate in the democratic process of this nation, we are now watching that very core human right once again under attack. Passing ‘voter ID requirements’, several states have taken it upon themselves to alter the way in which citizens elect their next leaders. A poll tax by a new name, these voter ID laws are nothing more than intimidation tactics to keep the poor and people of color away from the polls. It is the most egregious and outrageous form of voter suppression we have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. And it is a blatant attempt to reverse the very work Dr. King dedicated his life to. When it comes to communities of color in the U.S., one of the most tragic realities we face is the rampant rise in gun usage and violence. We can argue as to the root causes of this rise — whether it be poverty, lack of jobs, inadequate schools, lack of opportunities — but the fact remains that it is our children we are burying and our families that are being torn apart. The larger question is, why are these guns so readily available? As the national rise in violence reaches epic proportions, we must create strict national gun laws, and we must establish programs to diminish this senseless violence. Whether it’s conducting gun buyback events, creating more alternatives for people to resolve their disputes, providing counseling where it’s often needed and seeking increased employment/opportunities for the disenfranchised, we must work together to save all of our collective futures. If Dr. King were alive today, another issue he would tackle head on would be increasing warfare around the world. As a man of the cloth and someone who embodied peaceful protest, he was always fervent in his anti-war stance. At a time when potential international warfare threatens stability in many nations and pushes us at home into deeper debt, we must look at potential conflicts through his lens. And finally, no society can advance to the next level if all of its children do not receive the same quality education. As I’ve stated many times in the past, education is often times the key that opens the door to entirely new possibilities and helps to equalize the playing field like nothing else can. But when a child doesn’t receive adequate education because of his/her socio-economic status, then we have failed as a nation. As perhaps our greatest modern civil rights struggle to date, good education is something we must ensure all children receive regardless of their race or income status. We agreed that ‘separate but equal’ was separate and unfair; now let’s work to create a united, equal educational system for all. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” were words spoken by the great Dr. King. As we gather to honor this civil rights advocate, let’s remember to pick up the mantle and continue the good fight, for there are many obstacles which remain. So let us not celebrate in silence, but commemorate with our actions; do something today to bring justice for tomorrow. Reverend Al Sharpton is the president of National Action Network and host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC.
Martin Luther King day is one of our only national holidays committed to honoring social and racial justice. Yet too often it has been watered down to a Hallmark card — a weak commemoration of one of the most inspiring individuals and formative eras in American history. It’s time for a true celebration of Martin Luther King Day. This week, Americans everywhere will remember the selfless and historic contributions made by one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Rebuild the Dream members are hosting MLK Day Movement Meet-ups to celebrate Dr. King and link the Civil Rights Movement with today’s struggle for an economy that works for all. We will come together to reflect on the struggles of our past, and unite to secure our future. This is a chance to touch base with people who are passionate about fighting for Dr. King’s dream. Neighbors and friends will gather in schools, libraries, community centers, and living rooms to watch a short video and open up a discussion on how we can strengthen our movement in 2012. If you would like to attend an MLK Day Meet-up, you can find one here. MLK day is a chance to look back and look ahead — let’s reflect on one of the most important movements of our past as a springboard for the ongoing fight for justice. There is a lot left to fight for, and every day people are continuing Dr. King’s struggle. With a powerful movement sweeping the country, we must gather together and ask: What would Dr. King and other civil rights leaders do today? How can we continue their legacy in 2012 and beyond? While the founding reality of America fell short of our ideals, we also had a founding dream that was beautiful — is beautiful — and is inherently about equality. The story of America is a story of an imperfect people struggling day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and now century after century to bring that unequal reality closer to our beautiful founding dream. That was Dr. King’s dream. That is what our movement is today. 2012 will be groundbreaking, so we have to get together and get ready. It’s our turn. Let’s honor the inextricable link between the struggles of our past and the struggle for our future.