Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once spoke for a voiceless nation and now, once again, impoverished Americans are finding themselves in need of a voice to defend them and speak on their behalf. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock may be that voice.
When Dr. King dreamed of equality and acceptance over fifty years ago, he dreamed of better times than these. He became a voice for Black Americans who were struggling in a society that didn’t care about them but he also lent his voice to speak for impoverished Americans of every race because he knew that poverty knows no racial bounds. But here we are a half a century later facing the same state of affairs in the lower class. Poverty rates are rising, assistance programs for low income Americans are being slashed and any increase in the minimum wage to what could be considered a livable wage is being stalled by an unsympathetic Congress. Even the act of obtaining healthcare is proving to be nearly impossible in many of America’s poorest states because several Republican Governors are refusing to take Medicaid expansion money from the Federal Government. Struggling Americans are now living in a society that not only refuses to care about them but also refuses to even acknowledge their suffering. It would seem that we are once again in need of that passionate voice to rise above the hyperbole and speak on our behalf. And as luck would have it, we may have finally found that voice in a familiar place.
Dr. Raphael G. Warnock is the minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA; the same Church that once housed the ministries of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his father before him. The Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the community that surrounds it, has a great history of social activism and creating momentum for social issues in a nation where villains and fiends fight them every step of the way. Dr. Warnock has dedicated his life to keeping that tradition alive in a state that holds one of the highest poverty rates, at 14.4%, and the fifth highest number of uninsured people in the country.
On Tuesday March 18th, Dr. Warnock proved his commitment to the people of Georgia when he was arrested at the Georgia State Capital building with forty other protestors. His demonstration was in opposition to recent statements and actions made by the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal. Of late, Governor Deal has been making headlines by suggesting that Georgia repeal a law that prevents hospitals from turning away people in need of emergency medical treatment because they don’t have insurance. The law is in place to ensure that people don’t die from treatable illnesses or injuries just because of their social class or economic means. In other words, you don’t have to die in America just because you’re poor.
Proponents for repealing the law contend that the uninsured are a drain on the economy and the financial stability of their state but Dr. Warnock argues that there are over 600,000 people in the state of Georgia that are not covered by the Affordable Care Act and yet aren’t “poor enough” to receive Medicaid. These citizens were denied healthcare when Governor Deal rejected the funds from the Federal Government to expand Medicaid. If Governor Deal had accepted the allocation of government funds the 600,000 people in his state who currently do not have insurance would be covered under Medicaid.
This is an unfortunate political ploy among Republican Governors across the country who say they are taking a stand against big government spending by denying money that their electorate desperately needs. They are attempting to prove their political points by risking their citizen’s lives. Altogether, 21 Governors have declined the offer to expand Medicaid in their states and each of those 21 Governors happens to be Republican. That is 21 Republican Governors who have put partisan politics ahead of the needs of the poorest people in their states. This is inexcusable.
Luckily, the poor are not alone in this fight. Dr. Warnock is a determined, exceptional man who, I believe, will always fight for righteousness and justice on behalf of the downtrodden and voiceless. I am touched by his passion and moved by the deliberate tone of his voice. This is a good man that will never waver in the face of antagonism. And when a good man stands for the rights of others, all who oppose him better take heed because there will be no equivocation in his beliefs and no cracks in his foundation, for he will become the pillar that will help the rest of us stand a little taller. And now, perhaps more than ever, America is in need of a leader who will make us stand tall.
Being a non-religious man, it’s not always easy for me to find inspiration in the words of a minister but I, like most Americans, have heard the magnificent words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and they have never failed to inspire. I grew up believing that his dream was possible and that one day every person in this world would be seen as equal. But now that I am older and that dream has still not been realized I ask why are we still struggling with equality? Whether that equality is for members of the LGBT community who have fought to pronounce their love without shame or judgment, black and Hispanic communities who continue to fight every day just to be seen as Americans, women who even in this century are not seen as equal to their male counterparts both at work and at home or the impoverished lower class whose membership only requires that they struggle to survive in one of the most plentiful nations on earth, that equality should be theirs. We should be past this point in our history. We have fought long and hard but the battle wages on. When will the soldiers of the civil rights movements, both past and present, the men and women that Norman Mailer referred to as The Armies of the Night, be able to finally rest in the comfort of their victories? When will people like Dr. Warnock finally be able to say that we have reached the dream that Dr. King spoke of so long ago?
To be honest, I don’t know if we will ever reach a point of pure equality but I know we need to keep trying. For without the efforts of a dedicated few there would be no justice in the world for those who have been disparaged by hateful propaganda and diminished in the public eye by repeated untruths and misinformation. That’s why I am happy that there are still good men like Dr. Warnock out there fighting for us. He is an inspiration to me, as he should be to all of us. Please, watch this video and listen to the words of a man who is attempting to save America from its growing apathy for the poor.
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