The Sound Grenade: What will be the tipping point?

By Sarah Levy

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence: April 4, 1967; New York City

This past Monday marks the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., killed in Memphis where he had traveled to support a strike of sanitation workers. Forty-three years after the fact, King’s words could hardly be more relevant.

Besides the explosive, yet all too often, silenced parallel of the day before he was assassinated, King had proposed a general work stoppage for the entire city of Memphis. He did so as a means to push forward the seemingly rut-stricken sanitation workers’ strike effort and the situation regarding the U.S. budget today is an alarmingly similarly problem as it was when King made the statement above. Jon Stewart put it succinctly when he said, “You can’t fire teachers and Tomahawk missiles at the same time.”

The brilliance of this statement comes from the fact that firing teachers-let alone fire-fighters, closing libraries, etc.,-implies that we have no money. In contrast, invading a nation on what was basically a whim and spending well over $100 million, just on missiles, on the first single day of operations, implies that we do.

As Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, said on CBS’s Face the Nation, “It’s a strange time in which almost all of our congressional days are spent talking about budget deficits [as] outrageous problems. yet at the same time, all of this passes.”

Strange indeed. Just how many teachers could be hired for the cost of one cruise missile? How many students’ college tuitions could be paid for, not to mention head start programs for younger kids? How many public employees could be paid to carry out needed services for the cost of this new war?

Besides our own internal lack of rationality, this tragic contradiction brings up another crucial point. At a time when we just invaded another country to help bring those people Democracy and Freedom-fondly reminiscent of our noble missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan-it is worth asking the question: what on earth makes us a credible force to help out other countries, when things seem to be going downhill back at home? Are we really the model we want to be spreading? I only ask because based on our situation today, one would come to the reasonable conclusion that Democracy implies a system in which: workers are not allowed to collectively bargain; freedom of speech does not count if you are speaking of dissent like Bradley Manning or Malalai Joya; and the logical method of balancing the budget is in a way that affects everyone with gross inequity, rather than taxing the corporations that are currently getting away with paying a whopping nothing on their yearly mega-profits. At least that whole “liberating women” thing is still credible, because it’s not like women’s rights are under attack here at home.

The question is, will this all lead to a tipping point?

So far we have begun to see the boiling over of outrage against the way things are in Madison, with similar protests against budget-slashing and anti-union measures across states including Ohio, Michigan, and New York. Similarly, what has erupted as massive student protests all across Europe are beginning to pick up here at home, with high school and university students demonstrating from California to Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, among others. Granted, the student movement is still small in the U.S., but it is building and people are organizing. The latter is crucial for anything to come of what currently stands as widespread and intensifying frustration.

On this tragic anniversary of King’s death, let’s proclaim it intolerable that our country’s priorities are still so out of touch with reality for the masses, as they were when King made his famous Beyond Vietnam address. Speaking in New York City, a year to the day before he died, King said, “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

When Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets for imperial interests take budgetary preeminence over the educational and occupational well-being of citizens at home, this need for restructuring is clearer than ever.