Monday, May 1 is the Day Without Immigrants here in the U.S. A day that many activists are asking supporters not to go to work or school, or open your business, but to attend rallies, wearing white, to support the immigrant community. That community is asking Congress not to pass legislation like HR 4437, very repressive to undocumented aliens and even hostile to legal immigrants in tone. (see the blog entry on HR 4437 just above, this same date, with that bill number as the title, and also S 1033 blogged March 28 as " Senate Bill 1033, Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" and an earlier entry on HR 4437 blogged on March 26 as "Immigration Conflagration.")
Activist Websites like ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) urge people:
Join immigrants and supporters to make Monday, May 1, 2006 a national “day without an immigrant.” Anti-immigrant politicians and hatemongers call mmigrants “a drain on society” - they try to pass repressive legislation like HR 4437 and encourage groups like the racist “Minutemen.” But immigrants contribute billions to the economy and receive few benefits in return. We will settle for nothing less than full amnesty and dignity for the millions of undocumented workers presently in the United States. Let’s show the government, corporations and racist politicians that a powerful, united peoples’ movement has the power to win Civil Rights, workers’ rights and make history. No business as usual on May 1!
It is difficult not to be swept up in such rhetoric. I have friends who are immigrants, friends who are Latino or Asian and I feel the hatefulness of the Minutemen and the legislation that treats immigrants like a “drain on society.” But I also have friends who are African-American. I listen as they articulate the concerns that are circulating in the barbershops and churches of their communities about what “guestworker” programs will do to the dismal employment prospects of
young men and women in their neighborhoods. I wonder, What would Martin Luther King say about all this?
Read on ... This article from the Boston Globe is an excellent capsule of the
PLANNED WALKOUT STIRS IMMIGRANT DEBATE
Author(s): Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff Date: April 28, 2006 Page: A1
Manuel Madego will not be firing up his Friolator on Monday.
The Dominican immigrant, who sells fried meat and cheese pastries from his small cart on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, will be staying home Monday to protest what he says is this nation's harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants. Many other businesses on Centre Street will be closed. Like Madego, their owners will be participating in national "Day Without Immigrants" to call attention to the contributions made by the millions of undocumented immigrants in the labor force.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters are planning to stay away from work and school, avoid spending money, wear white, and join rallies and prayer vigils. The event is being planned as Congress grapples with the divisive question of illegal immigration.
"On that day, we show that America is immigrants," said Madego, a legal immigrant who settled in Boston in 1980. "I hope white people, black people, Chinese people, everybody comes together on that day."
Despite that excitement, the plan has touched off an intense debate about whether the protest will backfire at a sensitive time in the immigration debate. Some immigrant activists worry that it may undermine a hard-won image of immigrants as tireless workers who come to America seeking only jobs and better lives.
"This is really not the best course," said Jose Quinonez, who runs the California-based BlueLatinos.org, a website for liberal Latinos. "It undermines our message that we are here to work, here to learn and to achieve the American Dream. And to have this boycott of America kind of contradicts all these ideas that we really want to be part of this society."
In Massachusetts, some immigrant advocacy groups have discouraged workers from taking the day off, unless their boss grants them permission. They say some employers have threatened to fire workers who do not come to work Monday. And they worry that vast absences would erode the image of immigrants as essential to the labor force. There are many other ways to show support for immigrants Monday, they say, and they are urging people to choose the way that is most convenient, and least costly, for them.
"We want as many people as possible to participate in some way, but we are not calling on folks to risk getting fired," said Thomas Keown, spokesman for the Irish Immigration Center in Boston. "The purpose of the day is not a confrontational day of demands. It is a peaceful way to highlight the contributions of immigrants and the important role they play in the economy and society."
Labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, are discouraging their members from
staying home from work, saying such work stoppages are justified only over contractual issues. The Boston Public Schools issued a memo yesterday informing schools that students who take the day off Monday will be considered to have an unexcused absence.
The debate is taking place in an atmosphere of heightened activism among immigrants. On April 10, massive demonstrations for immigrant rights were held in major cities across the nation. Some of those demonstrations were later criticized, because some protesters carried foreign flags.
Organizers say Monday's events will be far more decentralized. In Massachusetts, for example, there will be a press conference with immigrant advocates and business leaders at the State House in Boston, a student walk-out and teach-in at Harvard, a 24-hour prayer vigil in Framingham, and a march to City Hall in Lynn, among many other local events.
Despite the other events, it is the question of whether to stay away from work or school that is setting off the most intense debate.
Jennifer Coto, a senior at East Boston High School, said students there have been talking about what to do for weeks. She said the students have been told they would be punished if they missed school, but said she would be staying home, anyway.
"I got to support my people," said Coto, as she waited for Madego to fry her cheese pastelitos on Centre Street. "If I go to school, I feel like I'm betraying them. It's mostly Spanish students, so school is going to be empty."
It is not yet clear how many students and workers will be absent Monday. But some Latino business owners on Centre Street say they have already decided to close in support of immigrants. Advocates say some businesses in other cities with large immigrant populations will close, too.
"Our business is for Latin people, and we need to support our people, you know?" said Nondia Aquino, a Dominican immigrant and agent at Atlantic Travel on Centre Street. "Everybody is going to close."
"I'm going to lose a lot of [money]," said Sixto Lopez, a Cuban immigrant who owns Vasallo's Fashions. "But I support my immigrant community coming here to work. We must give them something."
The Allston-based Brazilian Immigrant Center is taking out advertisements in Brazilian publications and on radio this weekend urging business owners who rely on immigrants to give them permission to take the day off.
"If a business has a lot of immigrants and keeps it open, he doesn't care about us," said Fausto da Rocha, the center's executive director. "He just cares about cheap labor."
Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, a Boston-based workers' rights coalition, is lining up community and religious leaders to intervene with employers who fire workers for participating in the Day Without Immigrants, said director Russ Davis.
"We're trying to get the message out preemptively to employers that that would be a mistake from a moral point of view and also an economic point of view," Davis said. "If the unfortunate happens and people are actually fired, [the next day] we will have delegations to ask them nicely at first to reinstate the workers. And if not, we will bring their actions to the attention of their customers and the community."
The issue is not just difficult to navigate for the immigrant workers. Employers who show support for them by shutting down risk a negative reaction from those who want stricter immigration policies, who view the expected absences as proof that immigrants refuse to play by the rules.
"What they're trying to do is intimidate the American people," said Cyndi Ross, a Revere make-up artist who has joined protests against illegal immigration. "I will not shop on Sunday at a store that's closed Monday. I will not give them my business if they support people who don't belong here. If they don't show up for work on Monday, they're only showing people that they are not dependable, and this country does not want people like that."
The article does a nice job of personalizing the debate. In the Boston area, we have many immigrant groups, including a surprising number of undocumented immigrants from Ireland. The immigration community is an interesting cross-section of the larger community. In neighborhoods with a large immigrant component, I have no doubt that many local businesses are feeling a lot of pressure to close Monday in support of the Walkout, both to allow employees to attend, but also to show support. There is undoubtedly truth to that last paragraph and a half, that employers who shut down in support risk back-lash from critics of the protest, like Ms. Ross. At the same time, the folks who walk out are also risking problems at their employment or school. Boston Schools have issued a memo of warning, as it says in the article. Yet the peer pressure and desire to show support for "my people" will undoubtedly empty many of the schools on Monday.
Here is a link
to an article from the Boston Globe, April 28, 2006, STUDY: MANY JOB DEATHS ARE IMMIGRANTS, by Raja Mishra, Page: B4. This article is examining a dismayingly high number of job-related deaths in the local immigrant population. This leads to the point that immigrants are taking more dangerous jobs or accepting jobs without the safety precautions that natives feel they can demand. One can only imagine the pressure that undocumented aliens are under to accept unsafe work conditions, low-wage and even slave labor (see earlier OOTJ blog entry on immigrant issues link
Author(s): Raja Mishra, Globe Staff Date: April 28, 2006 Page: B4 Section:
With the nation locked in debate over immigrant rights, a new study found that immigrant workers accounted for a disproportionate number of workplace fatalities in Massachusetts last year.
Advocacy groups said an alarming new trend underscored immigrant workers' plight: Two died last year installing the bulky granite countertops favored in many kitchens, the fifth granite-related death in New England in the last two years. The study, to be released today by local labor union groups, follows a scaffolding collapse in downtown Boston on April 3 thatkilled three people, including an immigrant from Brazil, and brought renewed attention to worker safety.
Today, union workers plan to lay a wreath at the Boylston Street site of the accident. A federal investigation into the collapse is underway, as is an inquiry by state lawmakers that could result in sweeping changes to state workplace regulation.
The study, by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Heath, analyzed the 78 worker deaths in the state last year, finding:
Twenty-two deaths involved immigrants, accounting for 28 percent of fatalities, while
immigrants made up 17 percent of workers.
The average age of death was 46, with more than a third of the fatalities among workers 40 or under.
The average fine for safety violations involving injury or death levied by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates work sites, was $14,065. The agency's local inspections staff would take 124 years to inspect every state work site, a figure the report said dramatized the agency's staffing shortage.
The 78 deaths last year constituted the third highest tally since the local AFL-CIO began studying workplace fatalities in 1995. The authors did not begin focusing on deaths of recent immigrants until 2004, when 16 died.
One of the workers killed in the scaffolding collapse was 27-year-old Romildo Silva, a hard-working Brazilian arrival who dreamed of one day opening a hair salon. Last year, 38-year-old Valdecir Rodrigues, also from Brazil, was crushed to death installing a granite counter in Marlborough.
"Immigrants, quite frankly, are falling into the highest-risk jobs. And they find themselves without the training and safety precautions necessary," said Ali Noorani, executive director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, the Cambridge Democrat leading the legislative committee exploring construction safety overhaul, said his Latino roots made him all the more determined to change current regulations, which he said are filled with loopholes that leave most construction sites unmonitored. He also said that immigration status many workers here are undocumented makes risky work even riskier because workers are afraid to raise safety issues.
Robert L. Petrucelli, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, which represents the majority of the commercial construction companies in the state, said bilingual worker training is the key to lowering immigrant deaths. His association this week launched its first series of worker safety classes in Spanish.
Others said beefing up enforcement by OSHA is crucial. Nancy Lessin, health and safety coordinator for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and author of the study, said an average fine of $14,065 for safety violations would not compel firms to tighten safety measures at work sites.
"That's pocket change for these companies," she said.
A spokesman for OSHA declined to comment on the report.
Beyond the immigrant angle, the report offered details on all 78 workplace deaths last year, a series of crushings, falls, and collisions often overlooked in media reports until the scaffold tragedy earlier this month.
"When in the middle of the city, you have such a dramatic accident, it's gotten people's attention," said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
One casualty of a workplace accident, Paul R. King of Malden, would have celebrated his 51st birthday last week. He was electrocuted last July on the job as a maintenance contractor at Logan International Airport.
His daughter, Melissa King, 23, of Malden, plans to speak today at a State House rally, and has become active in promoting worker safety.
"We're hoping that no family has to go through what we went though," she said. "Something has to change."
The juxtaposition of the articles is interesting in that the justification for the guestworker provisions has been that immigrants will take positions that native citizens do not want. Perhaps the more accurate statement would be that undocumented workers and workers here under guestworker provisions (who are very much like the old
endentured servants that so many of us are descended from!)have no help if they object to dangerous workplaces or low wages. So employers perhaps prefer them to native citizens. Read on...
I have cited to the Center for Immigration Studies before. They have a great number of studies on the issues of immigration. They do have a strong position, which is that illegal immigration should be halted, the undocumented aliens present should not be given rights, and that borders should be strengthened. I have mixed feelings about some of their politics, but they have a wealth of data, but be aware of potential bias slant:
Center for Immigration Studies
Increasing immigration, especially illegal immigration throughout the 1990's has produced higher numbers of immigrants than any time in history. The policy of open migration, even at times of low economic productivity produces very unfair competition for the population at the low end of the economic scale, most especially weighing heavily on African Americans.
Expediency and the Birth of the
Agricultural "Guestworkers" Program
by Cindy Hahamovitch
American policy makers are currently debating whether the agricultural "guestworker" or H-2A program should be reformed to make it easier for growers to hire farmworkers from abroad. Critics of such a proposal fear that a vastly expanded program would create even more opportunities for abuses of power than the current violation-ridden program. Such a program, they argue, would constitute a return to the dark days of the bracero program, which brought nearly half a million Mexicans to perform backbreaking labor for low wages on western farms in the two decades after World War II. Proponents of a new guestworker scheme counter that the current program is too heavily regulated and that the proposed program would offer a legal alternative to the widespread use of undocumented farm labor.
While policy makers disagree as to whether agricultural employers face a labor feast or famine, few question whether the program was necessary at its start. Even the H-2 program’s harshest critics presume that its creators were merely responding to a dearth of labor brought about by the wartime economy. Yet a look at the World War II-origins of the "Emergency Farm Labor Importation Program," the scheme that led to the H-2 program in the East and the bracero program in the West, reveals that the officials who created the guestworker program never believed that there was a national labor shortage in agriculture. They created the importation program, not because it was necessary, but because it was politically expedient to do so, because
the nation’s most powerful growers were demanding the preservation of the cheap, plentiful, and complacent labor force to which they had become accustomed over the previous 20 years of agricultural depression.
[by the end of WWII,] African American observers couldn’t help noticing that the importees were enjoying benefits that domestic farmworkers never even imagined. "Fair Wages Should Begin at Home," began an editorial in Norfolk, Virginia’s, African American owned paper, the Journal and Guide. The author noted that West Indian laborers had been guaranteed a minimum wage of 40 cents per hour and adequate housing, "which is much more than any U.S. Negro farm laborers are assured of making." "A minimum wage has been denied Negro or white farm labor in the United States," the author continued, "Its [sic] a long story, the retelling of which need not be undertaken here. But the experiment points up what the farmers can do, and what our government can do when necessity demands that something be done."
The history of the Labor Importation program did indeed demonstrate what government could do either to facilitate or undermine farmworkers’ efforts to improve their condition. It did not demonstrate that the transformation of the federal government into a sort of crew leader to a nation had ever been driven by necessity. Federal officials created the Emergency Farm Labor Importation Program, not because they believed it was necessary, but because they believed it was expedient.
The Importation Program was certainly more palatable to growers than the effort to relocate domestic farmworkers from areas of surplus to areas of scarcity, but it undermined farmworkers’ efforts to lift themselves out of poverty. Farmworkers who struggled to bargain up their wages after 20 years of agricultural depression found themselves thrown into competition with farmworkers from abroad who could be deported for making the very same demands. But with workers from other Caribbean nations clamoring to work in the United States as well, American growers had little incentive to improve conditions. Those who did not like them could simply leave. In the last year of the war, 38,000 Jamaicans, Barbadians, St. Lucians, and British Hondurans labored in the United States alongside almost 62,000 Mexicans, 5,800 Bahamians,
120,000 POWs, and an undisclosed number of Puerto Ricans (who were only reluctantly
included in the program because, as citizens, they could not be deported for striking).
You can see these last two links' theme is that the history of open immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States was one of opening the doors in order to avoid employing African Americans or even southern whites. Immigrants seem to be preferred, according to Center for Immigration Studies, because they are easier to underpay and bully into unsafe work: "...[A]s citizens, they could not be deported for striking." Do keep in mind that there is a bias in the report, and yet, I think the logic does perhaps make sense. Read the next snip from this CIS link:
Lengthy article pulling together many historical sources on the effects of immigration on the African American community Link:
The two decades after World War II, with their rapid economic growth, presented another opportunity for black economic advancement. But it was during this period that immigration slowly began to rise after the lows of the 1920s and 1930s, and only a year after the struggle for black legal equality reached fruition with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the groundwork for a new wave of mass immigration was established with the Immigration Act of 1965. Since then, nearly 20 million legal immigrants have moved here, in addition to millions of illegal immigrants. This flow continues at the rate of about one million a year, in an unfortunate repetition of the period
before World War I.
Prominent black Americans today are silent regarding the pernicious effects of this ongoing immigration on their brethren. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no such reticence. In speeches and letters, newspapers and books, black Americans of all political persuasions spoke out about the harm done to them by the federal government's policy of allowing the mass importation of cheap labor. This publication draws together a selection of that commentary, to remind us of the logic underlying black Americans' heritage of protest against mass immigration as a fundamental impediment to black economic progress — a heritage forgotten in recent years.
Features quotes from Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Dubois, and Marcus Garvey, plus a wide variety of newspapers printed for the black public.
The Economy Slowed but Immigration Didn’t
This report shows through a number of measures how the United States continues to allow open immigration over the decades, even when the economy slows down. It shows how the peaks of illegal immigration occur just before real dives in the economy I am not sure if that graph intends to infer a cause and effect.
An interesting, analytical report. Some of the materials at the Center for Immigration Studies are quite biased, and clearly heavy-handedly political. This report, while having a clear agenda, looks like it contains some very good data that is useful, with footnotes so you can go look for yourself. I did find one URL that did not work. Full of graphs.
And from the U.S. Census, here are a variety of data covering many years.
Estimates of Illegals in U.S. between 1990 - 2000 (PDF format with a nice Executive Summary)
Basically, the Census estimated originally that there were 5 million "unauthorized immigrants" nationwide in January 1996, and revised to 5.8 million. They now estimate 7 million undocumented immigrants nationwide in January, 2000. The Census Bureau figured California had 32% of the total, followed by Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina. The report is estimating a total of 8.7 million "residual foreign born" which includes "quasi legal" residents. The report explains the term to include residents admitted to lawful permanent residence, asylees, refugees, parolees, and long-term non-immigrant residents. The interesting thing is that the report summarizes everything by saying that while there were 1.5 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. before the 1990's, 5 million more illegally immigrated during the 1990's.
The inquiring mind wonders WHY? There was much more authoritarian government to run from in Latin America in the 1980's. I am not sure that the economy all over Latin America or even just in Mexico is that much worse in the 1990's than it was in the decades before. What changed?
Well, the guestworker program, together with Bill Clinton's push for NAFTA, the outsourcing of jobs to maquiladoras (which then lost jobs to China, I understand), helps put things into some perspective. I think perhaps it is the insatiable appetite of business for cheap and compliant labor. During this same period, we in the United States also so the appearance of school standardization tests which pressured the public schools to standardize the output (students) to the optimum required by local businesses. Businesses were complaining that students graduated with high school diplomas and yet were unable to read or make change. The political solution put in place, which swept the nation, with the election of President George W. Bush, was high stakes educational testing. Federal funding was linked to mandatory high stakes testing. Here is a very recent news story from the San Francisco Chronicle about the California high stakes test:
Californians Like More Tests In Their Schools
The vast majority of Californians support not only the state's controversial high school exit exam but also the idea of requiring all students to pass a test before advancing to the next grade level, a new poll shows.
Although no such idea is in the works at the moment, 72 percent of Californians surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California said they would support such a test for all 12 grades. The idea has received strong support in national surveys, inspiring the pollster to ask the question locally.
Even more Californians, 73 percent, favor the exit exam that students must pass for the first time this spring to graduate from high school, according to the survey, which is being released today.
"People aren't completely sold on the idea that testing is perfect, but tests give a sense that students are learning in school," said Mark Baldassare, research director of the Public Policy Institute. "If someone sent out a notice that students were doing great, that wouldn't be enough for people today. They need something tangible, and they've gravitated to testing."
The poll is being published at a time of protests and lawsuits over the withholding of diplomas this spring from thousands of high school seniors who have not passed the exit exam, which tests proficiency in math and English.
The survey asked 2,501 state residents a wide range of questions about their views of public education. It has a plus or minus 2 percent margin of error.
The results show that more than half of residents from a variety of ethnic and income
backgrounds take a dim view of public education in the state -- except when it comes to their own local schools. Eight in 10 residents surveyed give their local schools a passing grade, the poll found. (Snip)
The first diplomas will be withheld this spring from students who have not passed the exit exam. Although the vast majority of students (roughly 9 out of 10) have passed the test, low-income students and those who speak little English make up most of those who haven't.
Attorney Arturo Gonzalez, one of several lawyers trying to persuade the state courts to block the exam's looming consequences, said he believes the poll results show that most Californians "don't understand the issues" when it comes to the exit exam.
"Ask the same people if they think it's fair to deprive students of a diploma if they passed all their classes but were not taught the material on the exit exam," Gonzalez said. "And ask, 'Do you think it's fair to deprive a student of a diploma if they were taught math and English by teachers who were not credentialed to teach math and English?' I think you'd get totally different answers. I think it'd be 70 percent the other way."
State records show that in 2004, the most recent year of data, 1 in 4 math and English classes did not have a qualified teacher under the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Education Act. (Private schools do not require teachers to be credentialed or to pass the exit exam.)
Californians -- especially Democrats -- believe schools should do more to help students pass the exit exam, a test of basic math, English and algebra skills, the survey showed. Students have six chances to pass the test, beginning in 10th grade. In all, 80 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans favor requiring schools to provide small English and math classes taught by fully credentialed teachers for students who initially fail the test, the survey showed.
Meanwhile, Bay Area residents were least supportive of the high-stakes tests compared with other regions of the state. Nevertheless, Bay Area support was still strong at 66 percent for a promotion test, and 68 percent for the exit exam, the survey found.
"The graduation test is a minimal competency test," said Melanie Chadwick of Union City, one of those surveyed. "These are the basic skills children should have to enter into adult life. It's a shame if any of the children don't pass that test."
Chadwick works in the accounting department of Cal State East Bay and is the mother of four school-age children, ages 6 to 14, in the New Haven Unified School District. She is expecting a fifth child, and said that all students should be required to pass a promotion test to prove they are performing at grade level.
Chadwick called it a disservice to promote students who couldn't pass it. In those cases, she said, "students do need to be held back."
Other key findings of the survey:
-- 64 percent favor raising the income tax of the "wealthiest Californians."
-- 60 percent say schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for work.
-- 53 percent say schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for college.
-- 44 percent say schools are doing a poor job of teaching students to read, write and do math.
-- 55 percent gave their own local schools a grade of A or B, while 80 percent gave at least a C.
The full survey can be found at www.ppic.org.
(Note the telephone interviews were conducted in
I have been thinking about what is the best thing to do on Monday, May 1, for all my friends, both immigrant born and African American, and for this great nation that I do love. I feel so much that we have wandered far off course. And so I went back and looked at one of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most amazing speeches, which he delivered at the March on Washington. He said this:
I Have a Dream
Address at March on Washington
August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
(all speeches available at http://www.mlkonline.net/ link)
Oh, Martin, what would you say? You managed to break the chains of segregation, but so many of your African-American brothers and sisters still live on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. I fear that those who care about justice have allowed ourselves to be split into warring camps.
Let us renew our pledges of community. Reach out to one another and pledge to support each other against those who sow hatred and division. Recall that before the immigrants came to cash any checks, Africans were being shipped against their will into slavery to this country, more than 400 years ago. Their descendants have a claim upon that promissory note, as surely as all the newcomers. I will not say nay to either group. This is a country that must keep its first promises before it begins to make new promises. Let us say, with Martin, Let Justice Roll Down Like a Mighty Flood, and remember the end of his speech:
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
And let us add to black and white, also brown, yellow and all the rainbow in which humans can come, And join hands and sing "Free at last! thank God Almight, we are free at last!"
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called on people to take risks in what he called a "dangerous unselfishness." He used that phrase in "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech given at beginning of the effort to assist the sanitation workers in Memphis, where he was assasinated. He gave this parable to call on people to continue the effort and take risks to assist others unselfishly, and this seems particularly apt at this moment:
...we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to church meetings--an ecclesiastical gathering--and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.
But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?".
That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do no stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.
And from his Letter from Birmingham Jail, responding to critiques that he should not have meddled as an outsider from Atlanta, Dr., King said,
..., I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. ... Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
So let us say, like the Prophet Amos "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The beautiful photograph of MLK with the picture of Ghandi is from the excellent website MLK Online, http://www.mlkonline.net/