DMI Blog

Dan Morris

From Economic Vulnerability to Economic Security

The Drum Major Institute is named after Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermon on the drum major instinct. Throughout his life, King harnessed the drum major instinct--which he defined as the desire "to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade"--not for self-aggrandizement or material gain, but for selfless leadership. Over time, it became a force of inclusion and unification, something he used to help people of all backgrounds discover their common interests and march to the rhythm of greater fairness and equality. New alliances guided by inspiring ideas replaced old alliances shackled by prejudices of the past. Coalitions were built. And a movement was sustained.

During his final days, King focused on the need for a long-term anti-poverty agenda, arguing that the civil rights movement must live on as an economic justice movement with a strong policy platform and vision for government. In his view, full employment and guaranteed annual income should be presented as essential, non-negotiable demands.

A key goal was to raise the expectations of those at the bottom by creating "new forms of work that enhance the social good," lifting up people "for whom traditional jobs are not available." After all, King reasoned, "if a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists."

This is a sobering observation to keep in mind as progressive advocates today continue to insist that government must do more to reduce unemployment and create good jobs. We honor King's legacy and humbly continue his work by standing up for public policies that will transform economic vulnerability into economic security and improve life for all.

For more on King's relevance for our present economic moment, go here, here, and here.

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Posted at 12:21 PM, Jan 18, 2010 in Economic Opportunity
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