Monday, January 17, 2011

NOW IS THE TIME: Reflections by Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Ph.D.

The Rev. Peter G. Heltzel, Ph.D, is the director of the Micah Institute.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated leading a Living Wage Campaign in Memphis, Tennessee. In an address to strikers in Memphis on March 18, 1968, King stated, “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” The struggle for racial integration must be matched by a struggle for economic justice. Justice is not only about access to public places, but also about jobs.

Forty-two years after Dr. King’s death, the struggle for racial and economic justice wages on amidst an economic crisis. After years of over-spending, speculative trading, and expensive wars, America’s economy is ailing. Yet the rich and elite continue to prosper, while the poor struggle to make ends meet. This economic struggle is particularly acute in New York City; where over 2 million city residents receive food stamps and struggle to put bread on the table.

Through the crucible of the crisis a new poor-led, citywide movement for economic justice is standing in the gap. This coalition of community, religious and labor leaders is fighting for a Living Wage in our City. Specifically, we are calling on the City Council to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which will:

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act helps city families.
• guarantee that workers in large development projects receiving public subsidies are paid at least the New York City living wage of $10 an hour.

• raise the living wage with inflation so that it increases every year and keeps pace with the cost of living.

• require that employees who do not receive health insurance from their employer receive an additional $1.50 per hour wage supplement to help them purchase their own health insurance.

The passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act is a central component to fighting poverty in New York City. As faith leaders in this city, our mandate is a moral one given to us by our faith traditions. All people are made in God’s image and are loved by God. All people deserve a good job and a warm hearth to come home to. All people deserve a Living Wage.

As we begin to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial weekend, we seek to embody King’s words to the city leaders in Memphis, “Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all God’s children. Now is the time for City Hall to take a position for that which is just and honest.” Forty-two years later, we call on City Hall in NYC to take a stand for justice. We want a hearing and passage now. People of faith in New York City will wait no longer. Now is the time.

Council Members are responding to the call of clergy around the city. Council member Daniel Garodnick, D-Manhattan, just signed on as the 29th sponsor of the bill. We are now five council members away from a 34-member supermajority, preventing the bill from being vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg.

God calls the human community to take on each other’s burdens. If a person is suffering, we are suffering. If a person loses their house, we lose our house. If a person is underpaid, we are underpaid. Enough is enough. We call on Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and the City Council to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. 

Tonight, Thursday January 13, there will be a Mass Meeting for Living Wages at Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem. Inspired by the Mass Meetings of the Civil Rights Movement, concerned New Yorkers are coming out in full strength to bear courageous, collective witness to the working poor in our city. We are expecting over 1,000 supporters, including City Comptroller John Liu, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and a host of city council members to attend. Michael A. Walrond, Senior Pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church will speak on the relevance of the legacy of Dr. King for our contemporary struggle for low-wage workers today. Tonight will be a high watermark in the New York economic justice movement.

It is time for New Yorkers and all Americans to stand up and join the fight against poverty in our country. As Dr. King says, “we better be careful that we are not ‘a conscientious objector’ in the war against poverty.” Let us not sit this one out. Now is the time for action. Now is the time for justice. Now is the time to get up and move out for economic justice.

The New York Theological Seminary is an institution dedicated to multiculturalism, diversity, social justice and religious tolerance. The mission of the seminary is to prepare men and women, from every background, for careers in ministry.

No comments:

Post a Comment