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America's Poverty Crisis Cries Out For Sixties Style Direct Action

Written by Sherwood Ross on 10 March 2014.

David Simon, the Baltimore Sun crime reporter who created the HBO series, "The Wire," (2002-2008), in a recent interview said of African-Americans: "They're the last…(on) the economic ladder. And if you look at…Baltimore, Md., half of the adult male African American-residents have no work. That's not an economic system that is having a bad go of it, that's something that doesn't actually work." 

How true. The system is broke. Statistics that have been repeated to us a hundred times like some mantra, back up Simon's words, and, of course, he could be speaking not just of Baltimore but of any city in America. This is a nation whose people are sliding into decline with 46 million already sunk below the poverty line.

Here are just a few of the stats: African-Americans(AA) poverty rates 27%, nearly triple those of whites (10%); AA's---making up 14% of the population yet comprising 28% of those on food stamps; AA's comprising 40% of those in prison, about 1 million out of a total of 2.3 million; wirh about 33% of all Hispanics and AA's living in substandard housing compared with 14% of poor whites.) 

"It is implausible to imagine that, were (Rev.) King to be raised from the dead, he would look at America's jails, unemployment lines, soup kitchens or inner-city schools and think his life's work had been accomplished," wrote Gary Younge, the British author, in last September 2nd's issue of "The Nation."

"The fact remains," Younge asserted, "that African-Americans are no better off materially as a result (of Obama's election)…and that the economic gap between backs and whites has grown under his presidency. The ascent of America's first black president has coincided with the descent of black Americans' standard of living. Reasonable people may disagree on the extent to which Obama is responsible for that. But the fact is undeniable." 

The question today is not "What is the problem?" We all know the stats. We have walked the mean streets. We have seen the unemployed panhandling on the street corners. Some hardy souls among us have even visited the prisons. The question is, "What is the solution?"

The answer is nothing is left to us but non-violent direct action. It is a course that has much to commend it. That's because it involves masses of people. It goes beyond having a few spokespersons or leaders speak for the afflicted. It involves setting in motion the afflicted themselves, by the scores, by the hundreds, by the thousands. The individual who marches for social justice has got a right to hold his or her head up. People are filling the streets from Cairo to Kiev. Why not in Chicago and Los Angeles? 

"You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to his fellow ministers in the June 12, 1963, issue of "Christian Century" in his classic essay "Letter From a Birmingham Jail". 

"But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes," King wrote.

"It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative."

There was no alternative in 1963; and there is no alternative in 2014. I submit there is no point in waiting for a charismatic leader akin to Rev. King to swing into action. The place to find the next charismatic civil rights leader is to look in your own mirror.

© by Sherwood Ross. Ross in the Sixties was active in the civil rights movement and was press coordinator for James Meredith's "March Against Fear" in Mississippi in June, 1966. His role in that march is cited in the new book "Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear" by Aram Goudsouzian, chair of the History Department at Memphis State. Reach Ross at  HYPERLINK "mailto:sherwoodross10@gmail.com" \t "_blank" sherwoodross10@gmail.com  •

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