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Reviving King’s Dream to End Hunger

January 12, 2009

When Dr. Martin Luther King surveyed the state of American life over 40 years ago, he saw a nation fractured by racial inequalities and poverty. While Dr. King is often remembered as a civil rights leader who fought the oppressive racial divisions in the United States, history often overlooks King’s dedication to eradicating poverty and hunger, as evidenced in his Poor People’s Campaign. In addition to his “dream” of ending racial divisions, King also dreamt of the day that all Americans would have enough to eat.

The United States could have ended hunger in the 1960s and could end hunger today, says NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg. “Had America ever chosen to do so, it could have wiped out domestic poverty and hunger far more rapidly than it could have achieved King’s goals of racial equality or world peace,” says Berg. President Johnson’s War on Poverty was the first federal campaign to seriously combat the causes of poverty, and it succeeded in cutting national poverty rates in half. The unprecedented campaign was a temporary victory for low-income Americans and the Johnson administration. But the War on Poverty lost political steam in the 1970s and, as a result, in 2007 there 14 million more Americans living under the poverty line than in 1973.

What we need now, says Berg, is not a recapitulation of old programs but a new, and creative political will to eliminate hunger and poverty: one that lends real weight to federal anti-poverty initiatives, and acknowledges the many parties responsible for moving those in poverty towards self-sufficiency. “Increased government support, economic growth, community involvement, and a focus on personal responsibility are all needed to solve the problem,” says Berg.

President-elect Obama vowed to end domestic child hunger by 2015 – a sign that there may be increased government support for ending hunger in our time. As citizens, it is our job to push the new administration to keep its promise to low-income Americans so that Dr. King’s dream of ending hunger can finally become a reality. Let’s think of it as our collective resolution for 2009.

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