Dr. King Was About Economic Justice, Livable Wages, And Healthcare For All -- De Blasio and McCray

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Mayor Bill de Blasio and First lady Chirlane McCray. File Photo--Flickr
The following are excerpts of the speeches made by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray today at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Events at the Brooklyn Academy of Music today. 
Bill de Blasio: I want to say something about how people mark this day because you know you turn on the TV, you go online, you see images of Dr. King – and in the mainstream media, I would argue you see a very different vision of what Dr. King was about than the actual one. You see, what I might call, a sanitized vision, a desiccated vision, a simplistic vision of Dr. King and all he stood for.
Dr. King was not just about Kumbaya and everyone get along. He wanted everyone to get along. Sure, he believed that equality was how we learned to get along, and how we had a platform to get along, but it was not just everyone love each other, we’re okay, leave the status quo the way it is. He was quite clear that the entire status quo was unacceptable.
And it wasn’t just about race. It was obviously essential to everything he did but he spoke about economic reality too. He didn’t act like people were impoverished just in terms of their rights. He also talked about how people were economically impoverished because of institutional racism in this country.
He talked about how poor white people, working class white people were just as impoverished by economic inequality and a power structure that just wanted everything for themselves. That’s the real Dr. King. By the way, a lot of the people in the power structure understood so decades went by where there was not going to be Dr. King holiday. Remember that?
Remember Stevie Wonder, everyone else who fought for it. A lot of people in this room fought for it.
Because the powers that be feared the notion of honoring the real Dr. King, the Dr. King that the FBI watched all the time, the Dr. King they considered a threat to national security because he spoke the truth. If you want something that will take you back, go see a very powerful movie, go see the movie, ‘Vice’ about Dick Cheney. And it reminds you how Dick Cheney – every time he had a vote, would vote against the King holiday. And a lot of other people did too which gets left out of the history.
But the real Dr. King was a militant. The real Dr. King was uncompromising, a voice so powerful they literally didn’t know what to do with him. I want you to know that the things he did was not just the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, it was not just all the civil rights actions – he saw them as intrinsically connected to the fight for economic justice. And he was just as quick to call a boycott of a company that was racist or a company that was treating its workers wrong – he was just as quick to go to Memphis on behalf of the sanitation workers and their rights.
This is a quote from 1967. Listen to how far ahead of his time he was. “We can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”
Dr. King had every right to believe in 1967 that the winds of change were powerful and that there was going to be progress. But if he were here with us in 2019, sadly his quote would be just as true today. When it comes to economic justice, we have a lot farther to go.
I like to put it very simply. There’s plenty of money in the world. There’s plenty of money in this city, we know. It’s just that it’s in the wrong hands.
So, in this city we, every day, are breaking out of that status quo. We are going to use our power to make sure that working people get the wages they deserve, the benefits they deserve, the life they deserve.
And it starts with this – everyone struggles to get health care. Everyone struggles to pay for a necessity because it is treated like a luxury not like a right in the United States of America. But health care should simply be a right, shouldn’t it?
Wouldn’t that be what Dr. King would want for everyone?
So in this city, from this point on, health care is guaranteed in New York City.
We announced a week ago that the 600,000 New Yorkers who don’t have health insurance, who have nowhere to turn, from this point on, we’re going to give them a health care card, and they’re going to get a primary care doctor, and they’re going to get the specialists they need. And they, and their families, when they’re sick they’re not going to have to go to the emergency room, they’re going to go to the doctor.
People have a right to a decent life, a right to actually enjoy what they have earned. It’s not just the one percent who gets to enjoy life. The rest of us do too.
That’s why in this city from this point on, we will guarantee every New Yorker the right to two weeks of Paid Personal Time every single year. Paid vacation, paid time off for people who work hard and deserve something back for themselves and their families.
My friends, if you confront anyone and you tell them about these ideas and they say that’s too radical, they say that’s unrealistic, they say we don’t have the money for it – if you hear any of those criticisms think of what Dr. King would say. It’s unrealistic in the eyes of the status quo because they fear that kind of change.
It’s not because the money isn’t out there. It’s something we owe our people. It’s about our will. It’s about our belief. One thing Dr. King always showed us was to believe we could somewhere better, to never let the bonds of the past hold us down, but to believe a future that would be ours not made by those who came before us but ours.
That’s what we strive to do in this city and that’s what we celebrate this day – a city for everyone in the image of Martin Luther King.
Chirlane McCray: Thank you so much, Bill. Please show him some appreciation.
Alright, alright. Well, let me tell you, I was feeling the spirit of Dr. King in the crowds at the march, and I’m feeling him now. I want to thank you, Katy, and the entire BAM team for so thoughtfully honoring his legacy every year. And thank you all for coming to reflect on Dr. King’s vision as we renew our commitment to the dream.
I was 13 years old when Dr. King asked a simple question to the crowd gathered at the SCLC Convention, where do we go from here? It was August of 1967 and I wasn’t thinking far beyond my own life but I knew I was living in a time of great tumult and a time of great opportunity. A new women’s movement was dawning in homes and workplaces as protests raged against an unjust war in Vietnam, and Affirmative Action opened the doors on college campuses all around the country.
People were just beginning to talk about the dangers of polluted air and water, and the Black Power movement raised the bar beyond civil rights to full liberation and embrace of our black beauty.
But I couldn’t full comprehend the weight of those victories and the setbacks of those struggles. That summer I was 13. How could I know that the Supreme Court ruling in Loving vs. Virginia would one day mean so much to my own love story? How could I know that the world felt full of possibilities?
I only had to look at my own parents to believe that if you worked hard, anything was possible. They had working class jobs and high school degrees, and here we were one of two black families living in an upscale neighborhood with good schools and a life filled with opportunities they had never had.
I was touched by everything going on in some way – the fierce whirling around possibility of my brother and my cousins getting drafted to fight in Vietnam, the joyous day when girls were finally allowed to wear pants at school. I was reading Dick Gregory, and contemplated becoming a vegetarian, reading Toni Morrison and Nikki Giovanni, and growing an afro. But I did not feel part of any of these movements, not every movement, and that was in large measure because of my age and my gender and my ethnicity, but it was also because of how siloed these movements were from each other.
As I got older my eyes opened wider to the world around me – you know, the big picture – and I began to understand that we all share a responsibility to continue the struggle in whatever way we can and connect them just as Dr. King did. When he asked that ever-relevant question – where do we go from here – he called on us to see beyond our personal experiences and fight to correct injustice and inequity in all society. Our struggles are all connected and so our movements – our movements for change must be too.
Now, I felt those connections as we rallied and marched this weekend. I felt the persistence of the black suffragettes who couldn’t stop with the 19th Amendment, not in the era of Jim Crow. I felt the determination of Italian and Jewish women garment workers and Chinese railroad workers and black sleeping car porters – all striking for a better life.
I felt the courage of the trans and gender non-conforming people who sparked a global movement at the Stonewall Inn. I felt the sweeping power of Tarana Burke’s work with these two simple words, Me Too. And every day I feel the urgency of the work we’re doing right here in New York City to create a fairer, healthier, more equitable city for all. I hope you feel that urgency too because there is a part for everyone to play. Don’t you agree?
There’s work enough for everybody. And this year, I ask you to help move the needle toward justice and fairness by finding ways to create more unity in our movements for change. And I’ve got three asks for you.
One – support progressive causes of people you don’t usually socialize with, people with different backgrounds, different jobs, different faiths, different ethnicities. Can you do that?
Two – join our movement for mental health awareness and services for all families. Observe our Weekend of Faith from May 16th to 19th this year. May 16th to 19th – learn more about mental health and how to take care of your loved ones and your neighbors by taking Mental Health First Aid for free. And share the free connection –
Share the free connection to consultations and mental health care available to any New Yorker by calling 1-888-NYC-Well. Can you share that number with me?
Everyone: 1-888-NYC-Well.
Please, share that number with everyone you know. There is a way to get help for your loved ones and neighbors. Please call that number.
And three – organize in your neighborhood and other neighborhoods to register new voters. Every day we are one day closer to new leadership in Washington, D.C. and we must be ready.
I know you agree with that. If it happens tomorrow, we have to be ready. Right? Because it’s going to happen. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, but what do we have to do?
We have to be ready. I’m going to keep doing as much as I can and I hope you will join me. And just remember don’t let them divide us. We cannot let that happen. That’s the M.O – keep the people divided. Because wherever we go from here, we go together.

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