Stuart Appelbaum & Rev. Dr. Jesse T. Williams Jr.
The struggle for economic justice, which was effectively derailed 43 years ago with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is back on track.
The gap between the rich and poor has reached Depression-era levels. The top 1 percent of Americans owns 40 percent of the nation's wealth. Meanwhile, more than 30 percent of New Yorkers under the age of 18 are living in poverty.
The inequalities in race and class on which King shined a moral spotlight are being challenged, as they haven't been since his killing in Memphis, where he went to support striking sanitation workers seeking a union contract and a living wage.
The effects of the Great Recession, escalating income inequality, the social costs of growing poverty, Occupy Wall Street and more have combined to once again raise questions about "necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few," as King said regarding his Poor People's Campaign.
We have come together in a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational and multi-faith coalition of persons of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to do something about the growing inequities in our great city and to lift up the working poor.
We believe, as King did, that the moral measure of any society is found in how we treat the least among us. We have taken up his call.
As an initial step in our fight for economic justice, we are backing passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act now being considered by the New York City Council. The law will require big corporations receiving large public subsidies to pay all employees $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without benefits.
A majority of City Council members support the bill, and we are pushing to convince Speaker Christine Quinn to take concrete action to help the working poor and get the necessary 34 votes to override an expected veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
On Monday, Nov. 21 at 6:30 p.m., our Living Wage NYC coalition will come together at the Riverside Church to cry out against the economic injustices being experienced by our communities and call upon the New York City Council to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.
In this season of giving thanks, the time for true leadership has come. Leadership is tested not by one's capacity to survive politically, but by the ability to make tough decisions in trying times.
The window of opportunity is limited. As New Yorkers are now focused on increasing economic inequality, growing poverty, hunger and homelessness, now is the time. There will be no better opportunity. We hope and pray that Quinn and her colleagues will meet the challenge.
On March 31, 1968, less than a week before he was killed in Memphis, King spoke at the National Cathedral about the changes going on in the world, the challenges and opportunities they presented and about his Poor People's Campaign in "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution."
"It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, ‘But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent, sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me...If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.'"
Stuart Appelbaum is the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The Rev. Dr. Jesse T. Williams Jr. is senior pastor of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church.