“A nation that continues year after year spending more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote was taken from MLK’s famous “Beyond Vietnam – Time to Break the Silence” sermon in which he condemned the escalating war in Vietnam. Dr. King went on to say that America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, has the power to take the lead in the revolution of values. He concludes that nothing – except a tragic death wish – can prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. Unfortunately, like many visionaries, Dr. King was staunchly criticized and admonished for his remarks. Yet, 42 years later our country finds itself again in the crossroads of a tragic and unpopular war.

President Obama has announced the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, including the role of American troops. Regardless of the specifics of the strategy, it includes the deployment of thousands of young men and women who will fight and die to defend an Afghan government known to be corrupt, inept and without popular support. It’s a government whose accomplishments include both election fraud and the protection of a lucrative opium trade that continues to wreak havoc throughout villages in Afghanistan as well as neighborhoods throughout the U.S. and around the world.

While our government escalates unpopular wars, our nation faces a multifaceted economic crisis of unprecedented dimension: mortgage defaults and spiraling housing foreclosures, a financial system in chaos, rapid decline in consumer spending and growing unemployment. While this crisis affects the entire fabric of American life, it is particularly hard on the working class and the poor. The spike in violence within our communities is widely reported but few speak of the rising levels of discontent in our urban, small town, and rural communities, and the anger, despair, and restlessness of our people.

It will take more than empty words of change to quell the inchoate rage that many have. Our communities have seen billions of American dollars spent on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and billions more spent to bail out the banks and the chief architects of this economic crisis. Yet very little public funding has been invested to directly address the continued economic assault of unemployment and underemployment on African-Americans and Latinos, people with disabilities, and youths.

To confront this multifaceted crisis we propose the creation of a National Jobs Program. The program will create 3.5 million new high quality jobs each year for five years. These jobs would come from three broad areas: (1) investment in public infrastructure, such as transportation, educational and health care facilities, and parks; (2) social services, which will include a major upgrading of pay and working conditions of human service jobs such as those in child, elder and healthcare; (3) industries of the future, particularly the areas of energy, agriculture and other broadly defined “green” technologies. How do we pay for these jobs? First, we must end these destructive wars and shift revenues away from the military.

The ongoing misadventures in Iraq alone have cost taxpayers $100 billion every year since 2003. One-half of that amount would provide $50 billion for the jobs program we are proposing. Taking an additional five percent of the total annual war budget of approximately $1 trillion (including intelligence, armaments, and salaries) would provide another $50 billion. Second, an excess profit tax on the major energy companies could conservatively raise $50 billion. Thirdly, we propose instituting a tax on financial transactions, which would act as an incentive to reduce the volume of highly leveraged financial speculation. In 2008, using only stock transactions on registered exchanges, this type of tax would have generated $175.2 billion. Lastly, $75 per year could be generated through a wealth tax of 0.5 percent on the top one percent of households by wealth, those with more than $5 million in assets.

Unless there is a substantial public mobilization pressuring the Obama administration to end the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to instead invest in the implementation of a national jobs program that provides long-term living wage jobs, we will heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King; and our nation will surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Elce Redmond is a community organizer in Austin and the greater West Side.