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MLK Day Special: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in His Own Words

Reposted from Democracy Now! Watch Full Show

Today is the federal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born January 15, 1929. He was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old. While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor and organized the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. Dr. King was also a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War. We play his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which he delivered at New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, as well as his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” that he gave on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated.


Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today is a federal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born January 15th, 1929. He was assassinated April 4th, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old.

While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor, organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. And Dr. King was a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War.

“Beyond Vietnam” was the speech he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. In it, Dr. King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Life magazine called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post said King, quote, “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people,” unquote. Well, today we let you decide. We play an excerpt of Dr. King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam.”

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: After 1954, they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over the united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered.

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreements concerning foreign troops. And they remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South, until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than 8,000 miles away from its shores.

At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else, for it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after the short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long, they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: “Each day the war goes on, the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism,” unquote.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war and set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

Part of our ongoing — part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under the new regime, which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary.

Meanwhile — meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task: While we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment, we must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now, there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality — and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing clergy and laymen concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past 10 years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression, which has now justified the presence of U.S. military “advisers” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago, he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin — we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay a hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4th, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York, explaining why he opposed the war in Vietnam. We’ll come back to his speech in a minute.

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AMY GOODMAN: Mahalia Jackson, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite song. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam.” He gave this speech April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. He was speaking at Riverside Church in New York.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means, in the final analysis, that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft-misunderstood, this oft-misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man.

When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response, I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I’m speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says, “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word,” unquote.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam writes, “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 4th, 1967, speaking at Riverside Church in New York, explaining why he opposed the war in Vietnam, the speech he delivered exactly a year to the day before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4th, 1968. The night before he died, Dr. King delivered his last major address. He was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers as he built momentum for a Poor People’s March on Washington. This is some of Dr. King’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt, and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through — or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire, and I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his 95 theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863 and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the early ’30s and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation and come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But I wouldn’t stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the 20th century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free!”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around, as Ralph has said, so often scratching where they didn’t itch and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — we are saying that we are God’s children. And if we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 3rd, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. We’ll come back to this speech in Memphis, Tennessee, in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Nina Simone singing “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead).” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech the night before he was assassinated. It was April 3rd, 1968, a rainy night in Memphis, Tennessee.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth. And they did come. But we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”

Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist and some others, we had been sprinkled. But we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.

And we just went on before the dogs, and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses, and we would look at it. And we’d just go on singing, “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off.” And they did. And we would just go on in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows, being moved by our prayers and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to, and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

Now let me say, as I move to my conclusion, that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. Now, that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air and placed it on the dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now, you know we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body 24 hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1,200 miles — or rather 1,200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, 15 or 20 minutes later, you’re about 2,200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And, you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

That’s the question before you tonight, not “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” not “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented Black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it, I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood; that’s the end of you.

It came out in The New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheelchair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the president and the vice president. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I had received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth grade student at the White Plains High School.” And she said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze, because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed — if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the Black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the civil rights bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.

And they were telling me — now, it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully, and we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out, of what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers. Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King, speaking April 3rd, 1968. Within 24 hours, he would be dead, assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, April 4th, 1968. Today is the federal holiday that honors him.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced by Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Libby Rainey, Sam Alcoff, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Charina Nadura, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Adriano Contreras and María Taracena. Mike Di Filippo and Miguel Nogueira are our engineers. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Julie Crosby, Miriam Barnard, Hugh Gran, David Prude, Vesta Goodarz and Carl Marxer. And to our camera crew, Jon Randolph, Kieran Krug-Meadows, Anna Özbek and Matt Ealy. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

This entry was posted on January 16, 2023, in Press.

As it prepares to disband, Michigan task force on COVID racial disparities leaves a healthy legacy

Reposted from Second Wave Michigan

This article is part of State of Health, a series about how Michigan communities are rising to address health challenges. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Black Michiganders were among the hardest hit in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, representing 29% of COVID-19 cases and 41% of COVID-19 deaths despite being only 15% of the state’s population. In April 2020, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer established the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. By the end of September 2020, Michigan’s Black residents made up only 8% of cases and 10% of deaths.

“When that change happened, we were able to flatten the curve,” says task force member Renee Canady, CEO of the Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI). “But more importantly, we were able to build and strengthen community voice and how government responds to the needs of individuals, needs they face all the time.”

This dramatic reduction in disparities involved creating more opportunities for testing within communities, connecting people of color with primary care providers, improving contact tracing and isolation strategies, promoting safe reengagement, and utilizing trusted community leaders in the broadcast of reliable COVID-19 information. Now, as the task force prepares to disband, its members are looking back on the work they’ve accomplished and the groundwork they’ve laid for continued progress toward dismantling health disparities in Michigan.

“Collectively as a task force, I was amazed at the level of commitment and dedication. … We had to problem solve and think deeply,” Canady says. “As a public health professional my entire career, seeing community engage and build partnerships at this deeply authentic level was absolutely inspiring and motivating for me. It really was about execution and action and change.”

Comprised of 23 Michiganders from diverse locations, backgrounds, sectors, and ethnicities, the task force was directed to increase transparency in reporting COVID’s racial and ethnic impacts, remove barriers to accessing health care, reduce medical bias in testing and treatment, mitigate environmental and infrastructure factors that exacerbated mortality, and improve systems for physical and mental health care as well as long-term economic recovery. To accomplish these directives, members of the task force joined other community leaders in workgroups focused on strategic testing infrastructure, primary provider connections, centering equity, telehealth access, and environmental justice. Task force member Jametta Lilly, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, says the task force’s reports in November 2020 and February 2022 show that the workgroups became “fast-moving entities” that identified goals at the community and statewide levels. 

“We brought together people who don’t necessarily plan together — community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, hospital administrators, academic administrators,” she says.

Overcoming roadblocks to telehealth

Lilly sat on both the Primary Provider Connections and Telehealth Access work groups. While increasing telehealth opportunities enabled people across the state to receive medical and mental health care during COVID shutdowns, the modality also underscored the reality of the digital divide.  

“An accomplishment is the work that’s been done to recognize how the digital divide exacerbated the death and mayhem that we saw, whether that was in health, in education, in all of our social services, in access to food, and in the employment market,” Lilly says. “There was a recognition that the digital divide had to be addressed if we were going to create structural change not only to address COVID but also to move the state of Michigan forward.”

The Telehealth workgroup’s efforts were in part responsible for a subsequent gubernatorial executive order that called for expanded high-speed internet access for all Michiganders, and an ensuing state investment of $3.3 million to realize that goal.

Rooting out implicit bias

Following another recommendation from the task force, a July 2020 gubernatorial executive order directed the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to require implicit bias training for health care professionals licensed and registered in the state.

“It takes a level of courage and investment to start the journey, to say, ‘This is not acceptable,’” Canady says. “We do have evidence of bias, experiences of community members, partners, and patients. We’re not willing, as Michiganders, to look the other way on this. A one-hour training is not going to disrupt decades of socialization. But our hope, and certainly my hope as a member of the task force, is that it will whet the appetites of clinicians, employers, and civil servants in Michigan to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize this. I need to learn more. I need to think about what we should be doing differently.’”

Task force member Denise Brooks-Williams, senior vice president and CEO of market operations at Henry Ford Health (Henry Ford), acknowledges that Henry Ford was invited to the table because of its long history of trying to eliminate health disparities, in part by requiring its staff to complete implicit bias training.

“Amongst the task force’s many accomplishments was putting a culturally diverse lens around marketing and how we try to attract people to health services,” Brooks-Williams says. “As we moved into having vaccines available but seeing a low response among those wanting to have them, [it] really did take time to invest in some multicultural marketing resources. They did a really good job. That will pay dividends for a long time.”

Canady hopes that, in addition to requiring implicit bias training, the state will be able to measure significant changes and greater awareness, knowledge, and understanding of the unresolved consequences of bias and discrimination.

“We need to think differently about systemic inequities and how to maintain relationships across disciplines,” Canady says. “It’s not just the Department of Health and Human Services’ responsibility. It’s not just LARA pushing on people’s licenses to practice. It really is all of us in partnership together.”

Health care in community

The Primary Provider Connections workgroup sought to remove barriers to care by making health care more accessible. Strategies for doing so included creating test and vaccination sites within trusted neighborhood locations like churches and schools, developing mobile clinics, and involving trusted community leaders as ambassadors of reliable pandemic health information. Brooks-Williams reports that Henry Ford’s mobile clinics will continue post-pandemic as a much-needed resource for communities that lack primary care locations. Another plus is that various community stakeholders are now connected in conversation.

“We’ve now got community agencies talking with health systems, talking with the health departments, talking with the state, in a way that we probably didn’t before,” Brooks-Williams says. “If we keep those conversations going in our communities, that will help.”

Lilly says one key area for improvement is in quality care coordination – creating a primary care system where primary care providers, Federally Qualified Health Centers, community health workers, and hospitals are integrated into an accessible continuum of health and well-being for all.

“That’s our nirvana,” she says. “But that’s not the system we have in the United States.”

Funding will be a priority

Much of the task force’s work was funded with COVID relief dollars. Task force members hope that when those funds dry up, those making budgetary decisions at the federal and state levels will continue to fund successful developments like telehealth, mobile clinics, implicit bias training, and culturally competent messaging.

“We are all saying that we need to have a more robust public health system that gets funded adequately, not just because we suddenly find ourselves in a pandemic,” Lilly says. “Now that our public health systems have readiness, I think we are in a much better place. The Federally Qualified Health Centers are in a much better place. There are mobile clinics and electronic health systems that have the capability of talking to each other.”

While the task force will disband in the near future, members hope that their legacy and work will continue to reduce racial disparities in health care and on other fronts such as education, employment, and economic opportunity.

“Relationships don’t end when a committee ends or when a conference is over. They’re fortunately transportable,” Canady says. “I believe that those relationships will continue as we all, in our individual areas of responsibility, continue to try to execute on the things we learned on the task force.”

Lilly adds that now it’s time to assess the lessons learned from the task force’s work.

“What are the gaps? What are we doing about them?” she asks. “What is so encouraging is that [the Whitmer] administration understands that we have to look very closely at what are the policies that either enable or perpetuate [disparities], or can possibly be a vehicle to create the systemic change we need.”

Estelle Slootmaker is a working writer focusing on journalism, book editing, communications, poetry, and children’s books. You can contact her at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.

Renee Canady photo by Roxanne Frith. Jametta Lilly photo by Nick Hagen. Denise Brooks-Williams photo courtesy of Denise Brooks-Williams.

OKT’s Lisa Oliver-King featured in story on food insecurity

Reposted from Rapid Growth Media

“It is great to grow food, but more importantly when we begin to look at the landscape, how do we understand policy?” Lisa Oliver-King

RG Community Connect: Collaboration is key in working toward a more just food system in Kent County

GRATIA LEE | WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2022

If you feel stretched by the increase in food prices in recent months, you are not alone. As inflation affects food costs across the country, more and more people are food insecure. According to the White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, “there is no silver bullet to address these complex issues and there is no overnight fix. Making progress requires collective, sustained action and mobilization across every segment of society.” That document, plus a newly updated Michigan Good Food (MI GF) Charter by Michigan State University, are poised to guide important changes to our current food system — one where “junk food”: high-calorie, low-nutrient food is more affordable than nutrient-dense “whole” foods like fruits, nuts and vegetables.  

While national changes are sure to be difficult in this partisan climate, these documents both provide a clear framework for smaller, local organizations to collaborate toward more resilient food systems and echo the work that is already being done. The MI GF Charter “calls for systemic change by supporting food systems that ensure food is accessible to everyone, promote healthy communities, use fair and sustainable production methods and support a diverse and equitable society.” 

It is encouraging that this type of work is currently happening in our community. “It’s a tension between meeting immediate needs and long-term, systemic solutions,” says Janelle Vandergrift, co-chair of the recently formed Kent County Food Policy Council (KCFPC). “Because immediate needs are so great right now it can take so much of our attention, but we still need to be able to zoom out and look at the system as a whole and see what needs to change,” she says. The Food Policy Council is set to begin work on a countywide community food assessment with the hope that the process will involve a lot of community feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of our current system.  

Despite the myriad challenges, Wende Randall, director of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force, finds room for hope. “I am energized by the coming together of grassroots groups, exploring how close neighborhoods or small groups can work together and some larger organizations activating practices of food justice that support local businesses and families,” she says.  

For the Good Food team at Access of West Michigan, systemic change in the charitable food system has been a top priority for the past five years, as it works to educate and collaborate alongside partners focusing on the importance of dignified access to healthy, affordable, culturally relevant food.  

One of its programs, Refresh Now, is a collaboration with two local health clinics to run a fresh fruit and vegetable prescription program that helps patients with chronic disease or high-risk factors access nourishing foods. “Food as medicine projects have the potential for making a significant impact on public health, especially in communities with significant health disparities,” says Randall.  

Another exciting project is a collaboration between New City Farm and Fresh Markets that we helped launch over the past five years. These are hyperlocal, innovative food retail sites in low food balance areas of Kent County. This project has been powerful as it has been influenced by and designed with community member feedback —  due to being able to share space with individuals who frequent the Fresh Markets and get direct feedback on what could be done better, what they want to have available in the markets from local farms and how the Fresh Markets can continue to be a beacon of health in their neighborhoods. 

Lisa Oliver King and Julie BrunsonOne of the most active organizations doing important grassroots work in Grand Rapids is Our Kitchen Table (OKT). Founded in 2005 as a mobilizing group for moms around the dangers of lead and radon in homes, Executive Director, Lisa Oliver-King continued conversations in her community and quickly realized that a major injustice was food. Since 2010 when they received their first grant, OKT has worked tirelessly on the southeast side of the city. Oliver-King stressed the importance of being active in your community. While growing food and teaching community members about healthy cooking is a tool they use, Oliver-King stresses that “the justice lens … is crucial.” 

“It is great to grow food, but more importantly when we begin to look at the landscape, how do we understand policy?,” she says. “The reality is you are always bumping up against policy. You need to show up at city commission and county commission meetings. How can we build a collective influence to bring about the change we want to see?”

As most have learned through experience, “being a part of systems work is realizing there are many entry points, not just one,” says Vandergrift. It is important to find your passion and start there. As a community member on the KCFPC, Samika Douglas is looking forward to “sharing the needs of the community and the barriers they are facing, as well as advocating for resources and services that are so needed.” Randall emphasized the need for shared language in this work and being able “to consider the assets of the community rather than just the deficits.” 

As the trajectory to reimagining more equitable food systems advances, the community must keep moving forward. Many of the most successful programs happening locally are those that prioritize resident feedback from and are authentically driven by the needs of those most affected by issues of food security. “While there is a lot of good work in our community being done, it is important to remember that in working on multi-levels, things might not happen as fast as you would like for them to happen,” says Oliver-King. “But, figuring out how you can still support the work in some kind of way because the more of a puzzle that we fit together, the better off our community is. We are all individual pieces that must connect to bring about those changes that will address the issue of being food insecure.” 

Photos courtesy of Our Kitchen Table and Access of West Michigan

Gratia Lee is the Good Food Systems Director at Access of West Michigan. She moved back to MI in June 2021 and looks forward to engaging with the community around shared goals of increased health equity and improved food access. She is passionate about the environment and sees food as an important entry point to connect people to one another and our planet.

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center continues fight against egg producers who put workers at risk

Lawsuit Against West Michigan Egg Farm and Labor Contractor Proceeds in Court

Content from MIRC

While COVID-19 has faded in urgency for many Michiganders, farmworkers are still fighting for justice after they were left unprotected and exposed to the virus in the early days of the pandemic. In March and April of 2020, as the virus was spreading in Michigan, essential workers Juana, Juan Carlos, and Margarita were hired to work at Sunrise Acres, a large egg producing and processing facility in Hudsonville, Michigan. They were hired by farm labor contractor C&C West Poultry operated by Armando and Joel Cardona Coronado. While working at Sunrise Acres they became infected with COVID-19 and fell seriously ill. 

At a time when most Americans were heeding the guidance of public health professionals, C&C West Poultry and Sunrise Acres chose not to implement policies that would halt the spread of the highly contagious virus and safeguard their workforce from COVID-19. “We were practically working shoulder to shoulder because the lines are very tight,” said Juana. The management at Sunrise Acres put forth superficial policies with zero implementation, and failed to satisfy the duties to workers outlined by Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). They did not provide personal protective equipment, claimed the company was implementing social distancing in workspaces where it was not physically possible, and took a lax approach to taking temperatures and monitoring symptoms of entering laborers.  They failed to take meaningful precautions to protect the health and well-being of the workers who kept them in business during the pandemic.

Juana and Margarita bravely brought a lawsuit against C&C West Poultry and Sunrise Acres to hold them accountable for failing to protect their workers from contracting COVID-19. The workers are represented by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a nonprofit law center that advocates for the rights of immigrants and farmworkers. Sunrise Acres and Joel Cardona Coronado tried to have Juana, Margarita, and Juan Carlos’ claims dismissed in court, attempting to intimidate the workers and dissuade them from continuing with their case. Joel Cardona Coronado further tried and failed to convince the judge that he did not bear responsibility. Sunrise Acres and their president and owner William Patmos, sought to be dismissed from the case and the judge denied the motion. In an important victory for Juana, Juan Carlos, and Margarita, the Ottawa court decided the case will proceed. This sends an important message to unscrupulous and negligent contractors and employers who fail to protect the health and safety of essential immigrant workers. 

“I felt like I was treated like I was disposable, working based on their necessity, not mine,” said Juana. Despite the dangerous conditions, she continued to work because “we all need to work and to take care of our needs, to take care of our family.”

“While this lawsuit started during the COVID-19 pandemic, really it brings to light a common theme we see among our clients,” said Gonzalo Peralta, the MIRC attorney representing the workers. “The health and welfare of farmworkers is too frequently not taken seriously by employers. No matter who you are or where you’re from, we all deserve safe and healthy workplaces. Workers should be able to count on their employers to take proper precautions to ensure their well-being. We are grateful to Juana, Margarita, and Juan Carlos for speaking up to ensure the rights of workers are protected.”

Workers who have questions about their rights can call MIRC’s free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046.

###

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a statewide legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities that works to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities experience equity and belonging. MIRC’s work is rooted in three pillars: direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community engagement and education. MIRC’s Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Rights practice focuses on representing farmworkers with their employment and civil rights matters and specializes in cases at the intersection of workplace and immigrant rights. michiganimmigrant.org 

WGVU “The Michigan Experience” features OKT

The Michigan Experience takes a look at Our Kitchen Table, a food and social justice organization located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hear from one of our food coaches as they explain all of the wonderful and impactful benefits of growing a garden right at home! Part of WGVU’s ‘MI (my) American Recipe’ program! https://www.wgvu.org/MI-recipe/ #MiRecipe

Michigan Egg Producer Pays Settlement to Farmworker Survivor of Sexual Assault

Workers who have questions about their rights can call MIRC’s free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046. 

Reported by MIRC

Michigan egg producer Konos, Inc. (Konos) has paid a major financial settlement to compensate “Jane Doe,” a client of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), ending a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the Western District of Michigan. MIRC’s client was allowed by the court to maintain anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the events at issue in the case. As a condition of settlement, Konos also entered into a consent decree with the EEOC for three years, requiring them to train their workforce and management on sexual harassment, post notices for all employees at their egg processing plants on the existence of the case and the right to a sexual harassment-free workplace, and self-report sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC.   

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represented the female farmworker who intervened to join the lawsuit and added two individual Defendants and state law claims under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. 

MIRC’s client suffered repeated sexual advances by her male supervisor which escalated to sexual assault. When MIRC’s client went to Konos management to complain, instead of taking any steps to protect her, they sent her home. The male supervisor was eventually criminally prosecuted and convicted of the charges. Konos employed their corporate attorney to represent the male supervisor in criminal court while continuing to represent Konos during the EEOC investigation and the civil litigation. During both the criminal and civil proceedings, Konos’ attorney attempted to use Jane Doe’s immigration status against her and as a defense against the company’s liability but was unsuccessful in deterring Jane Doe from seeking justice. 

“Sexual harassment and assault in agriculture is a pervasive and invisible problem with many immigrant survivors too scared to come forward and report due to concerns about immigration status being used against them,” said MIRC supervising attorney Diana Marin. “The weaponizing of immigration status by employers and defense counsel against our immigrant communities must end. It took incredible courage for our client to not only report the abuse, but also to see through a protracted legal battle against a multi-million dollar egg producer. We hope this case sends the message that sexual harassment and assault will not be tolerated and there are recourses for immigrant survivors who work in agriculture and experience harassment in the workplace.”  

For more information on sexual harassment, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/sexual-harassment

For more information on retaliation, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation.

Survivors of sexual assault and abuse can call the State of Michigan’s free and confidential 24/7 hotline at 855-VOICES4 or by texting 866-238-1454.

Workers who have questions about their rights can call MIRC’s free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046. 

Michigan Farmworkers sue Mastronardi Produce for pesticide exposure and wage theft

This just in from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) 

Lawsuit calls attention to abuses and unsafe working conditions faced by farmworkers at Michigan mega greenhouse

On June 1, 2022, three farm workers filed a class action lawsuit against their former employers, Mastronardi Produce-USA, Inc. and Maroa Farms, Inc. for violations of federal law relating to harmful pesticide exposure, and a deceptive bonus structure. Plaintiffs Benjamin Lopez, Oscar Carlos Lopez Ramirez, and Ramona Reyes Saucedo, along with their coworkers, were exposed to dangerous pesticides while working in Mastronardi’s two million square foot greenhouses in Coldwater, Michigan.

The Plaintiffs and their co-workers were repeatedly exposed to Virocid, Virkon S, and Sodium Hypochlorite 12.5% – disinfectants regulated as pesticides by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – without proper training, proper personal protective equipment, or access to information about the pesticides being used. Plaintiffs and their co-workers experienced ongoing medical issues including daily nose bleeds, headaches, burning eyes, and skin rashes. Mastronardi management repeatedly dismissed their symptoms and requests for protection.

In addition, Mastronardi failed to pay Plaintiffs the promised bonus for meeting production standards by continually increasing the amount of work that had to be completed to receive a bonus, changing how bonuses were calculated, and undercounting their work. Mastronardi also misclassified Ms. Reyes Saucedo as an agricultural worker and failed to pay her overtime wages when she was employed as a janitor cleaning bathrooms, lunchrooms, and migrant housing.

The workers are represented by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), a nonprofit legal resource center for immigrants and farmworkers in Michigan, and Farmworker Justice, a national nonprofit farmworker advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

“Pesticide exposure continues to be a serious health and safety risk for our nation’s farmworkers who help bring food to our tables, regardless of whether they perform their work in a field or a greenhouse,” said Anna Hill Galendez, an attorney with MIRC. “Despite the known risks of pesticide exposure, cases involving serious injury and illness to farmworkers as a result of pesticide exposure are all too common, and workers who speak up face the very real risk of retaliation by their employer. Our plaintiffs have demonstrated tremendous courage in coming forward and disclosing to the public the horribly unsafe and unjust working conditions at Mastronardi.”

“Although the practice of wage theft is unfortunately quite common in low-wage industries such as agriculture, it is especially disheartening to witness it in this context, where hundreds of migrant workers traveled long distances to Coldwater based upon Mastronardi’s promise that they would be able to earn a living wage, only to find out that Mastronardi’s guarantees were nothing more than an empty promise,“ said Trent Taylor, staff attorney for Farmworker Justice.

The workers’ complaints fit with a pattern of concerns at Mastronardi facilities in the U.S. According to news reports, Mastronardi facilities in several states have received fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Labor (DOL). Mastronardi has received multiple citations for workplace hazards at a warehouse in Livonia, and the company was previously fined by DOL for wage violations at Maroa Farms. In 2021 a Maine greenhouse owned by Mastronardi was ordered to pay wages and penalties to workers, and in 2020 COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in Mastronardi greenhouses in New York and Michigan.

“Farmworkers, like all workers, deserve safe and healthy workplaces,” said Anna Hill Galendez. “We hope that this lawsuit calls attention to the tremendous abuses that many farmworkers experience and will force Mastronardi to reform its policies and comply with the law.”

“We come to work. They should treat us well. We do our work so that the company can make money. The company should take care of its workers,” said Benjamin Lopez, migrant farmworker and a named Plaintiff.

“Workers also have rights,” said Ramona Reyes Saucedo, one of the named Plaintiffs. “Maroa should treat their employees with dignity and respect and take the proper safety measures to make sure the chemicals and pesticides used don’t harm the employees’ health. My health was affected a lot, my nose bled frequently, and it was difficult for me to breathe without pain or a burning sensation in my chest.”

Workers who have questions about their rights can call MIRC’s free confidential Farmworker and Immigrant Worker hotline at 800-968-4046.

###

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a statewide legal resource center for Michigan’s immigrant communities that works to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities experience equity and belonging. MIRC’s work is rooted in three pillars: direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community engagement and education. MIRC’s Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Rights practice focuses on representing farmworkers with their employment and civil rights matters and specializes in cases at the intersection of workplace and immigrant rights. 

Farmworker Justice (Justicia Campesina) is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice. The organization is based in Washington, D.C. and works with farmworkers and their organizations throughout the nation. farmworkerjustice.org

“We Just Unionized Amazon”: How Two Best Friends Beat the Retail Giant’s Union-Busting Campaign

Click on this Democracy Now! link to watch the video interview and read the transcript.

Hear how two best friends led a drive to organize workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island, New York, and made history Friday after a majority voted to form the first Amazon union in the U.S.

“I think we proved that it’s possible, no matter what industry you work in, what corporation you work for,” says Christian Smalls, interim president of the new union and former Amazon supervisor. “We just unionized Amazon. If we can do that, we can unionize anywhere.”

Reporter Josefa Velásquez covered the union drive for The City and discusses what the victory means for the broader labor movement.

Black Farmers Embrace Practices of Climate Resiliency

Reposted from Yes!

BY LEAH PENNIMAN 6 MIN READ

At Soul Fire Farm, a BIPOC-centered community farm, farmers learn regenerative methods such as heavy mulching and intercropping.

Chief Zogli looked weary as he scratched a notch in his doorpost to record the weather. “Still no rain,” he says with resignation. The chickens pecked lazily in the dust and the goats foraged for the last of the dropped grains beneath the emptying corn crib. In this rural community outside of Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, the farmers depend on rainfall as their only source of agricultural water. Zogli explains that the rainy season has been arriving later each year and ending sooner—and the thirsty crops struggle to mature.

From the African continent to the Americas and across the Caribbean, communities of color are on the front lines of and disproportionately harmed by climate change. Record heat waves have caused injury and death among Latinx farmworkers and devastating hurricanes have become regular annual visitors in the Caribbean islands and coastal areas of the U.S.

Meanwhile, several Alaskan Native communities struggle to hunt and fish in their traditional ways because rising temperatures are ravaging the wildlife. And sub-Saharan Africa, where Ghana is located, is among the regions projected to experience the harshest impacts of climate change.  “If you’re not affected by climate change today, that itself is a privilege,” climate activist Andrea Manning says. 

Farmers make fungal inoculant at Soul Fire Farm to enhance the soil’s capacity to capture carbon. Photo from Soul Fire Farm.

But the same communities on the frontlines of climate impact are also on the frontlines of climate solutions. A new generation of Black farmers is using heritage farming practices to undo some of the damage brought on by decades of intense tillage by early European settlers. Their practices drove around 50% of the original organic matter from the soil into the sky as carbon dioxide. Agriculture continues to have a profound impact on the climate, contributing 23% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Now Black farmers are finding ways to capture that carbon from the air and trap it in the soil. They are employing strategies included in Paul Hawkin’s Drawdown, a guide to the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.

One practice, silvopasture, is an indigenous system that integrates nut and fruit trees, forage, and grasses to feed grazing livestock. Another, regenerative agriculture, a methodology first described by agricultural scientist and inventor Dr. George Washington Carver, involves minimal soil disturbance, the use of cover crops, and crop rotation. Both systems harness plants to capture greenhouse gases. “No other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming as the capturing of carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis,” Hawkin says.

Here are examples of how farmers are putting these practices to work.

Leonard Diggs, Pie Ranch Farm, Pescadero, California

After working in an auto parts store during high school, Leonard Diggs swore, “I will never have another job working inside.” True to his word, Diggs went on to manage sustainable farms in northern California for over 30 years.

Diggs is developing a 418-acre incubator farm at Pie Ranch, where beginning farmers will establish their own regenerative enterprises. In collaboration with the Amah Mutsun tribal band and nearby farmers, he is creating a landscape-level ecosystem plan that integrates forest, riparian corridor, native grasslands, perennial and annual crops. The management practices that emit carbon, such as some annual crops, will be balanced out with perennial areas that sequester carbon, achieving carbon neutrality overall.

Leonard Diggs is developing Pie Ranch, an incubator farm in Pescadero, California. Photo from Leonard Diggs.

“We need to realize that working landscapes provide not just products but also ecosystem services like carbon sinks, water recharge, and evolutionary potential,” Diggs explains. He envisions a food system where farmers derive 30% to 40% of their income from the value of ecosystem services and do not have to “mine” the soil to make a living. He is working with researchers to establish baseline data for the amount of carbon in the soil, and the composition of bacterial and fungal communities. The goal is for the farm to capture more carbon than it releases over time.

Unlike many incubator farms that emphasize annual crops and allow farmers to stay for just a few years, Diggs is working with a longer horizon. “We need to plant orchards and perennials, get them established over 10 years, and hand new farmers a working landscape. Instead of making them leave as soon as their businesses get established, we will move the incubator to a new area, and the farmers can stay.”

“We need agriculture that does not lose our carbon, and does not deplete our people,” Diggs concluded.

Keisha Cameron, High Hog Farm, Grayson, Georgia

Not everyone in the Black farming community is as excited about fiber as Keisha Cameron. Given the prominent role of the cotton industry in the enslavement of African Americans, many farmers eschew cultivation of textiles. “We are largely absent from the industry on every scale,” she explains. “Yet these agrarian artways and lifeways are part of our heritage.”

Keisha Cameron, second from the right, with her family at High Hog Farm in Grayson, Georgia. Photo from Keisha Cameron.

At High Hog Farm, Cameron and her family raise heritage breeds of sheep, goats, rabbits, horses, chickens, and worms in an integrated silvopasture system and sells fiber and meat. One of her favorite varieties is American Chinchillas, rabbits which consume a wider diversity of forage than goats and fertilize the pasture with their manure.

The family is also working to establish tree guilds, a system where fruit trees are surrounded by a variety of fiber crops such as indigo, cotton, and flax. Their goal is a “closed loop” where all the fertility the farm needs is created in place. They pack a lot of enterprises into a small space. “We have 5 acres,” she says playfully. “Just enough to be dangerous.”

Keisha Cameron spins wool. Photo from Keisha Cameron.

In his book, the Carbon Farming Solution, Eric Toensmeier writes that silvopasture traps 42 tons of carbon per acre every year. This is because pasture stores carbon in the above and below ground biomass of grasses, shrubs, and trees. Also, animals that are raised on pasture have healthier digestive systems than those raised in confinement, and emit lower amounts of methane.

In addition to healing the climate, silvopasture is a joyful practice. “I get to play with sheep and bunnies. What could be better?” Cameron poses.

Germaine Jenkins, Fresh Future Farm, North Charleston, South Carolina

When Germaine Jenkins first moved to Charleston, she relied on SNAP and food pantries to feed her children. “I did not like that we couldn’t choose what we wanted to eat, and there were few healthy options. I was sick of standing in line and decided to grow my own stuff.”

Germaine Jenkins inspects the crops at Fresh Future Farm in North Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by Elizabeth Ervin.

Jenkins learned how to cultivate her own food through a master gardening course, a certificate program at Growing Power, and online videos. She promptly started growing food in her yard and teaching her food-insecure clients to do the same through her work at the Lowcountry Food Bank. In 2014, Jenkins won an innovation competition and earned seed money to create a community farm.

Today, Fresh Future Farm grows on 0.8 acres in the Chicora neighborhood and runs a full-service grocery store right on site. “We are living under food apartheid,” explains Jenkins. “So all of the food is distributed right here in the neighborhood on a sliding scale pay system.”

Jenkins relies on what she calls “ancestral muscle memory” to guide her regenerative farming practices. Fresh Future Farm integrates perennial crops such as banana, oregano, satsuma, and loquat together with annuals like collards and peanuts. The farm produces copious amounts of compost on site using waste products like crab shell, and they apply cardboard and wood chips in a thick layer of mulch. “We repurpose everything — old Christmas trees as trellises and branches as breathable cloche for frost-sensitive crops.” Jenkins explains. They even have grapes growing up the fence of the chicken yard so that the “chickens fertilize their own shade.”

Germaine Jenkins with her harvest. Photo from Germaine Jenkins.

Jenkins’ farming methods have been so successful at increasing the organic matter in the soil that they no longer need irrigation. They are also less vulnerable to flooding. “Two winters ago, we had 4 feet of snow. Our soil absorbed all of it,” Jenkins says.

Toensmeier writes that for every 1% increase in soil organic matter, we sequester 8.5 tons per acre of atmospheric carbon. If all of us were to farm like Jenkins, Diggs, and Cameron, we could put 322 billion tons of carbon back in the soil where it belongs. That’s half of the carbon we need to capture to stabilize the climate. 

As Larisa Jacobson, co-director of Soul Fire Farm explains, “Our duty as earthkeepers is to call the exiled carbon back into the land and to bring the soil life home.” 


LEAH PENNIMAN is a farmer, educator, soil steward, and food justice activist. She is the co-director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, and the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.