If I made a list of the most influential people ever to walk on this earth, it would go: 1) Jesus 2) Moses 3) Muhammed 4) MLK 5) Ghandi. Personally, I would put MLK ahead of Muhammed, but if you think globally, you just can’t do that.
It’s interesting, as I look at that list that every person on it was intensely focused on the poor. Jesus famously spoke volumes on helping the poor. Moses helped create laws about leaving the corners of your fields un-harvested for the poor. Muhammed, the founder of Islam, has within it the festival of Ramadan where fasting is done from sun-up to sun-down to remember the plight of the poor. Ghandi, who peacefully led the Indian people to independence from British rule, began by working for the economic equality of the peasant class.
And it’s very timely that a new study showing that the 85 richest people on earth have more than half the wealth of the world came out on the day we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While MLK is most known for the tremendous strides he helped make in civil rights, the last few years of his life he was devoted to eliminating poverty and reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.
I’ve always been fascinated with MLK. Even as a kid I loved listening to him speak on the grainy black and white clips that would come on TV every once in a while. In my early twenties I read Let the Trumpet Sound and The Preacher King and my admiration of him grew.
But while this holiday is about celebrating MLK and the Civil Rights Movement, I’m sitting here in my warm house, writing this on an iPad, with a fridge full of food, and a body that could use a little more sleep because I stayed up watching a football game last night where tens of millions of dollars was spent for men to play a game to entertain the citizens of the wealthiest country on the planet.
Maybe this day should be more about celebrating a total message of equality on all levels. And in our age, maybe we should especially focus on wage equality.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with people earning a good living, but Clayton Kershaw just signed a baseball contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that pays him about a million dollars every fifth day when he pitches a game. Is this okay? I say all this and yet I’ll still tune in and listen with voracity to talking heads on ESPN tell me why he’s “worth every penny.”
I don’t think the problem is in earning money, where I think the problem lies is in the wage gap. This TED Talk by Richard Wilkinson is astoundingly enlightening in regards to the wage gap. Data shows that there are significant negative effects on health, education, quality of life, crime, and all of society when the wage gap between the rich and the poor grows larger. Countries with the lowest wage gaps are places where people live longer in better health in less crime and in more peace.
Most of the people I know (myself included) couldn’t live the lifestyle they are accustomed to on minimum wage. Could you? Heck, most of the people I know couldn’t make it on $3 more than minimum wage. What does that say?
Civil Rights equality is still a big deal today – I don’t want to minimize that message – but what today has become (especially for middle-class white people) is a day to celebrate the idea of racial equality as something that happened in the past. It’s a day to marvel at the profound words and voice of an incredible speaker.
It isn’t a day to take an honest look at our country and how we are doing in terms of violence and war and poverty and the wage gap. It isn’t a day for us to look at the broken systems and structures that have gotten us here. It isn’t a day to move us into action. And I think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Would be greatly saddened by that. Am I? Are you?