With our nation having just commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us remember the legacy of the man who spread a message of peace and justice and challenged America to fulfill the true promise of Democracy. Among Dr. King's lesser-known speeches is that which included his powerful remarks lamenting over the impact of the war in Vietnam on poverty.
He reflected, "Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political play thing of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."
Dr. King's Vietnam speech comes to mind as I work with Congress to fully fund the redeployment of our troops and contractors from Iraq so we can end the U.S. occupation; when I hear the Bush administration's saber-rattling about Iran; and when the Bush administration pushes to sell over $20 billion worth of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and other countries, creating a powder keg that can only spark a regional arms race in the volatile region. Yet all the while, families are being displaced by the foreclosure crisis and the country is heading toward a major economic downturn.
Poverty impacts every state, county, city and district in America. Nationally, 21 percent of Americans living in poverty were under 5 years old in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 37 million people are living in poverty in the United States, a number equal to the entire population of California.
Congress has been forced to drastically decrease funding for domestic priorities so we can fund Bush's failed foreign policy, while this Republican administration spends somewhere between $11.7 billion and $15 billion a month on the so-called war on terror. Each additional day that our brave servicemen and servicewomen remain in harm's way in Iraq is another day that U.S. national security is further compromised and our domestic agenda goes under funded. As Dr. King observed with the Vietnam War in the '60s, there is no question that we have to shift funding from the war to support America's families.
This week, as we remember Dr. King, Congress will also take action on my legislation, H. Con. Res. 198, which seeks to cut poverty in half over the next 10 years.
Earlier in this term, I introduced resolution (H. Con. Res.-161) commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's launching of the Poor People's Campaign and Organization of the Poor People's Army. These bills are part of a larger package of poverty legislation I will introduce to make eradicating poverty in America a national priority.
Bush's war is a drag on the economy. In upholding Dr. King's legacy, we must challenge this administration's foreign and domestic policies and demand peace and justice.
U. S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, is first vice chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and co-founder of the Out of Poverty Caucuses.