On this day in 1963 at our nation’s capitol, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. It was an address that helped reform our nation’s thinking towards civil rights.
Speaking at over 2,500 events, arrested upwards of 20 times, and assaulted in least four incidents, MLK would likely do it all one more time were he alive today in the cause of another impeding civil right’s issue: lack of adequate health care for our citizenry.
In April of 1963, Dr. King intellectually and emphatically asserted that, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” as he diligently wrote from a rotting prison cell. His now infamous Letter from a Birmingham Jail called for a restoration of human rights, liberty and justice for all of humanity.
Every day, countless children are born into poverty without proper health care that sooner rather than later diminishes their chance at succeeding in school, obtaining work, leading productive lives, improving their condition and altering a devastating cycle. And every day, many children are blessed to be born into middle class homes with health coverage and opportunities for advanced education, but find themselves helpless when they too cannot find work or are struck by the unlucky fortune of a serious illness and their insurance suddenly drops them.
Each and every day some 14,000 Americans are losing their health coverage as our economy continues to struggle, and as a result, people are literally dying from either lack of insurance, loopholes in coverage or an inability to maintain regular check-ups and screenings that are so vital to staying healthy.
It’s an atrocity that in a country as powerful as the United States, people are falling ill, losing their homes and going bankrupt all because of a corrupt system that only benefits insurance conglomerates and those in their pockets. Why is it that the U.S. life expectancy today still lags behind 30 other nations? Why does a hard-working factory worker in the Midwest have to choose which finger to amputate because he could not control his diabetes in time? Why does a teenager in California have to die because her insurance company gave her the run around when she was seeking treatment for her aggressive cancer? And why are so many forced to travel to Mexico, Canada and England to get cheaper medicine and better treatment for their ailments?
President Obama recently spoke with a diverse body of religious leaders where he stated that health reform was a “core ethical and moral obligation”. If MLK were able to walk and march through our streets today, he too would likely preach for the urgent and dire need for change. Now of course, neither I nor anyone else can unequivocally say what this great man would definitively do, but as a student of his, I can make a calculated assumption. Listening to the cries of babies, watching innocent children suffering and observing the inhumane corporate lobby of our health industry, our nation’s greatest civil right’s leader would not hesitate to begin a new nonviolent campaign to end this destructive pattern of injustice and abuse.
Since our most recent recession began, more than four million additional Americans have lost their health insurance, and the numbers are undoubtedly going to rise. Another 3.2 million rely on Medicaid or the SCHIP program to assist them, and yet many on the right would have you believe that health care isn’t an urgent issue for ALL. The amount of blatant lies – from “death panels” to “government takeover” – spewed by those whose financial motives are questionable at best, would make MLK shutter. Unfortunately, there are some who are busy playing on the fears of people who have lost their jobs, livelihoods and a sense of stability. President Obama and Congress must not give in to these scare tactics, for health care is a fundamental human rights issue that must be guaranteed to everyone if we are to remain a civil society. MLK had urged for young high school and college students, young ministers and religious leaders – and their elders – to “courageously and nonviolently sit in at lunch counters and willingly go to jail for conscience’ sake”. Perhaps it’s that type of movement that needs to take place, that needs to silence the ridiculous mistruths and that needs to once again deliver equality for all.
MLK used to preach that we end poverty through assisting those poorer than ourselves. As human beings, we have to make a moral commitment to others, and that moral commitment today encompasses immediate health reform. Let’s continue Kingian nonviolence and let’s continue fulfilling this selfless man’s dream: for “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”.