Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln, while living in different eras, were great humanitarians. Both saw the broader concerns of humanity over narrow individual wants.
Dr. King said: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity and that property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man."
Lincoln saw the rights of workers superseding the rights of capital. He said labor is prior to, and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
Our nation and the world we live in run contrary to the ideals of both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Capital or corporate power has been given the rights of individuals and individuals have had their rights taken away. The great divide between the haves and the have-nots has grown exponentially since the days of King and Lincoln.
The challenge of humanitarians today is to close that divide and fight for the well being of the 99 percent. The struggle for equality is not only a civil rights struggle; it is an economic justice struggle. There is no wealth problem in this country only a distribution problem. Our society needs to reorder its priorities and meet human need instead of fostering individual human greed.
As a recipient of Gateway Technical College's Humanitarian Award, I pledge to redouble my efforts in the struggle for social and economic justice. Concretely, that means fighting to roll back the power of the corporate elite in our society, making the ultra-rich pay their fair share in taxes, fighting for adequate funding for our public schools, restoring collective bargaining for public employees, fair and humane immigration reform, and restoring the voting rights for all people living within our state and country.
That is what democracy looks like.
Al Levie is one of three recipients of Gateway Technical College's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Awards bestowed Monday and made these remarks in his acceptance speech. Levie is a social studies teacher at Horlick High School and is on the state executive board of Voces de la Frontera and the Racine chapter of the NAACP. He is an advisor to the student youth group Youth Empowered in the Struggle.