Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ – Joshua 5:13
Upon seeing the angel, Joshua, reverently falls face down, asking, “What message does my Lord have for his servants?”
On April 4, 1967, exactly a year before his death, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at Riverside Church in New York, speaking on the topic, “Beyond Vietnam – A time to break the Silence,” also brought a message:
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the ‘Good Samaritan’ on life’s roadside but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.”
Throughout the civil rights movement, activists used economic strategies to win battles.
The Montgomery bus boycott, the Woolworth’s boycotts, the South African economic sanctions and the boycotts led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – the Mahatma – in India all were successfully used to bring about constructive economic change.
Indeed, King’s last few years of life were spent addressing economic issues such as housing and employment discrimination.
In 1968, the year when he was killed, he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign in which he sought to bring people of all races together to win passage of an “Economic Bill of Rights,” hoping to reshape America’s anti-poverty policies.
But the Poor People’s Campaign was only a starting point. Obviously, it was King’s mission, to get America going in the direction towards a new economic agenda, towards a new Jericho Road.
In 1967, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) meeting, he said in a speech entitled, “Where Do We Go from Here?”:
“The problem indicates that our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other.”
Concerned about wasting human potential, King wanted an enhanced good will to be used to create jobs for those for whom traditional jobs were not available, saying:
“If poverty is abolished first, the problem of housing and employment will themselves be affected… The dignity of an individual flourishes when the decisions of one’s life are in one’s own hands and when one has the means to seek their own self-improvement.”
Time and again, we can see King was right. As poverty has increased, dignity has decreased and conflicts and violence have increased. In the same message, King quoted famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who said back then, “A guaranteed annual income could be done for about $20 billion a year.”
Today it would take 10 times that amount or about $2 trillion.
Back then, we spent $35 billion annually on the Vietnam War; today, we spend more than $664.8 billion annually on war. Back then, we spent $25 billion annually on space programs; today, we spend more than $3.9 trillion annually.
Back then, two-thirds of the world was hungry. In this area, there is improvement because now only one-eighth of the world is hungry. But there are billions more people now.
And, today, we also spend $63.4 billion annually to house 2.4 million prisoners, at a average annual cost of over $50,000 per inmate; that’s the salary of a firefighter or a police officer or a teacher.
Our end goal should be transforming the Jericho road and using it to access the Promised Land and then turning it into a land of promise for all.
We can do so by transforming the immoral capitalist economy we now have into a socially conscious and compassionate capitalist system, creating, as Galbraith said, “a guaranteed annual income” for all.
The Norwegians, for example, struck oil in 1969 and, in 1990, they decided to set up a national oil fund that has ballooned due to high oil prices. The Sovereign Norwegian Fund uses the money for all national investments, benefitting the economy and the people as a whole, so much so that it is estimated that the five million citizens of Norway are all millionaires.
So how can we do the same?
First, we can acknowledge, as King did, “It’s Time to break the Silence” about the evils of capitalism
Secondly, we can create and implement a plan answering King’s final question of “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” by creating Galbraith’s guaranteed annual income for all citizens
Finally, we can remain awake during America’s greatest revolution, which, like it or not, is now occurring, transforming the Jericho Roads of life into highways to the Promised Land. Our job when we get there is to make sure it’s a land of promise for all.
*The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org