Communities in Crisis: A Way Forward

The police murder of George Floyd, the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, the near lynching of Central Park birder Christian Cooper, the police killing of EMT Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the many other acts of terror directed at people of color reflect and reproduce our 400-year history of slavery and racism.

And, in a way, so has COVID-19, with its lethality falling disproportionately on communities of color and the working poor.

These are well known facts of recent history, but how can we make our tomorrows better than our yesterdays and today? We can recognize that the struggle for racial equality is one with the struggle for economic equality.

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) has always sought to link racial and economic equality, and in the face of the mass uprising for human rights that is currently galvanizing communities throughout the United States, this is true more than ever.

This was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision a half century ago: true racial progress in the United States is impossible without fundamental economic change and a redistribution of wealth and power. It is also our vision. The TCWC remains dedicated to getting rid of the root causes of poverty and injustice in our society and capitalist economy, through fundamental institutional change.

So, focusing on police reform or racial sensitivity training is neither enough nor does it get at the root of the problem. Social and economic transformation is essential to changing course. And this can and must occur locally – right here in Ithaca and Tompkins County – no less than at the national and international levels. It means a local law ensuring living wage jobs for all, dignified treatment in the workplace, the construction and availability affordable housing, investments in education and child care, and ensuring adequate health care for all.

We stand with the vision of Dr. King. “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality,” he told striking sanitation workers in Memphis shortly before he was murdered. “For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

Pete Meyers, Tompkins County Workers’ Center and Carl Feuer of the Midstate Council on Occupational Safety and Health