Letter to Editor

The Sydney Morning Herald published my letter to the editor this morning.

“The government was right to borrow money to buttress the economy. But the job is unfinished. The university sector needs urgent support, tax cuts must be shelved, privatisations halted, industries diversified, and the government and public sector must be more active in our economy. Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe warned that the old economic settings won’t kick-start the economy. Neither will the government’s old ideological settings.” Here is the link: Time to remake the vision of Australia

 

Actually, they edited it, so ICYW here is the unedited version with the cut sections in bold.

This government promised us jobs and growth, but has delivered neither. Now it will hand down a federal budget deficit of $143 billion for 2019-20, the biggest in our history. I for one will not forget this government’s pre-COVID-19 hubris about delivering a surplus. Even so, it has learnt a lesson: the government was right to borrow money to buttress the economy. But the job is unfinished. The university sector needs urgent support, tax cuts must be shelved, privatisations halted, industries diversified, and the government and public sector must be more active in our economy. Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe warned that the old economic settings won’t kickstart the economy. Neither will the government’s old ideological settings. If it is to be remembered as anything but an empty slogan, the government must deliver on its promise of jobs and growth. To do this, it should boldly invest in our public institutions and services.

Published in: on 4 J000000Tuesday20, 2009 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Martin Luther King: 50th Anniversary of his Assassination

P1190959Fifty years ago, James Earl Ray assassinated the twentieth century’s most eloquent voice for peace, justice, and freedom: Martin Luther King Jr. Eerily, the night before, King prophesied his fate. To an audience of striking sanitation workers (garbage collectors) in Memphis, Tennessee, he exclaimed: “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as people will get to the promised land.” The following day, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, King became a martyr.

The anniversary of King’s murder gives pause for reflection. The civil rights movement he fronted achieved revolutionary change between 1956 and 1968. When King first protested in Montgomery, Alabama, legalised racism divided the US South. African Americans were denied the right to vote and by-and-large could not share schools, workplaces, neighbourhoods, transport, and all manner of public facilities, with whites. Interracial marriage was illegal. This American apartheid existed in near impregnable form from 1895 to 1954.

Led by King, nonviolent protests in Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham, and Selma, compelled Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Housing Rights Act of 1968. Additionally, the Supreme Court outlawed racially segregated schools and permitted interracial marriage. In little over a decade, legalised racism went from being respectable to disgraceful. African Americans voted for the first time, sat at the front of the bus, and learnt at once forbidden schools.

Yet King did not achieve these things alone. He joined in concert with Rosa Parks in Montgomery, with school children in Birmingham, with John Lewis in Selma, and with unions in Memphis. Every step required marching in numbers to defy authorities and to enforce economic boycotts against racist businesses. Since reason, righteousness, and the power of one were often not enough, the movement used mass nonviolent pressure to force change.

King searched for the Promised Land in unlikely places. He went to Memphis not only to help the sanitation workers but also to drum up support for a new march on Washington: the Poor People’s Campaign. He hoped the march would bring an interracial coalition of the poor, dispossessed, and disaffected to the US capital to demand a better deal from the political elite. Yet, he died before the campaign could come to fruition and much of his dream has since remained unfulfilled.

It is worth using this anniversary to reflect on how King would view our world today. We cannot know precisely his view on every contemporary issue, however, we can reasonably speculate. In King’s final months, he persistently denounced a triplet of evils: materialism, militarism, and racism.

Today, he would deplore the fact that 43 million Americans live in poverty while multi-billionaires run the US government. He would be deeply concerned about tax cuts that will allow US corporations to evade their civic responsibilities and he would be appalled at the massive concentration of wealth in the northern hemisphere. He would tell us that a house is first and foremost a home, not an investment property.

King would be repelled by the nuclear gamesmanship of Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin. Two months before he died, King warned of a drift toward nuclear war. The cause? Nations, especially his own he said, believed: “I must be first. I must be supreme. Our nation must rule the world.” Sound familiar? On his final night on earth, with his last but a few eloquent words, King warned: “It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.” Given his nonviolent creed and that he was a victim of gun violence himself, he would be on the front line today with millions of teenagers furious at the intransigence of Congress and the NRA in relation to sensible gun control. King knew that dead children are not free.

And despite progress since 1968, such as the election of the first African American president, the backsliding on racial equality would alarm King. Trump’s racism and the Alt-right would appal, as too would the implicit racism of the Brexit campaign’s anti-refugee stance. He would see that although capital is free to travel easily across borders, labour is not so free. King would notice that economic injustice forces people to flee homelands as refuges and that cruel laws imprison them in insufferable and indefinite detention. He would notice that this fate befalls people of colour more than whites and would not split hairs over whether someone is a war refugee or a so-called economic refugee; his compassion would extend to both.

King described a house that we might find if we made it to the Promised Land: the World House. In the house, we would “have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu.” He preached that “because we can never again live apart”, we “must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”

A peaceful world characterised by racial and economic equality and religious tolerance sounds idealistic. However, King was an idealist and in a mere 12 years went an enormous distance towards the Promised Land and forging a just world. He brought people together instead of dividing them and if our global leaders do not heed his example, we must.

Published in: on 4 J000000Thursday18, 2009 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

King Day 2018

Every year, the United States celebrates the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. with a public holiday on the third Monday of January. Legislated by Congress in 1983, King Day was created to not only remember the late civil rights leader but to celebrate “racial equality” and “nonviolence”. By honouring him, the US began to desegregate its pantheon of heroes and King became the official talisman for racial integration.

Each year the president issues a proclamation in honour of him. In keeping with that tradition, President Trump recently praised King for having “lifted the conscience of our nation” and “stirred the hearts of our people to recognize the dignity written in every human soul.” If only he could do the same.

The proclamation came within days of his reported remarks that Haiti, El Salvador and African nations were “shithole countries”. Though he denies using these words, he admitted to using so-called “tough” language. One witness, Senator Dick Durbin claims that Trump in fact said these things twice. Given that the president built his election campaign on racism, he began by demeaning Mexicans as rapists, and he is prone to vulgarity, it is entirely plausible that he spoke those words.

The predictable backlash has been more forthright than usual. UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville declared Trump’s words as “racist”, especially in the light of the president’s desire to admit more migrants from, predominantly white, Norway. The African Union also deemed the remarks “clearly racist.” And Rep. John Lewis, who marched with King and was nearly beaten to death in Selma, Alabama, during the fight for democracy in the South, condemned Trump’s remarks. Few are more qualified than Lewis to comment.

It is worth reflecting on what King and the civil rights movement achieved. Through nonviolent protest in the streets of Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham, and Selma, the movement compelled Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Housing Rights Act of 1968. In addition, the Supreme Court decided in Brown V Board of Education and Loving v Virginia to desegregate schools and allow interracial marriage. In little over a decade, the foundations of legal racism were dismantled and millions of African Americans could vote for the first time, sit at the front of the bus, and gain access to once forbidden education institutions, and much more. Sometimes, however, it is easier to change laws than hearts.

We all know King’s famous “I have a dream” refrain. Yet he delivered one of his most significant sermons on 4 February 1968, two months before his assassination. In the Drum Major Instinct sermon, King imagined his own funeral. He told his congregation that he wanted to be remembered as someone who “did try to feed the hungry”, and “clothe those who were naked”. He elaborated, “if you want to say that I was a drum major [a marching band leader], say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness”.

King knew that leaders, like himself, enjoy the limelight and are propelled by a need to be recognised. Yet he argued that that ego had to be harnessed for good and he gave up his life in that quest. In Trump, however, we see a man propelled into power by a tirade of racism, sexism, and narcissism. He has enriched himself and debased the wellspring of community in the nation he leads and is King’s nightmare writ large. This year, the King Holiday, highlights how unfit Trump is to be America’s drum major.

Published in: on 4 J000000Tuesday18, 2009 at 7:56 am  Leave a Comment