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Of all the days to hold President Obama’s inauguration, it happened to fall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That day was a monumental day for our community as we celebrated two of our most notable leaders in history and their shared dream for a country of fiscal equality. And now as Black History month is ending and Sequestration is about to begin, it is imperative that we make their dreams a reality.
In Pennsylvania, devastating automatic cuts to critical programs are slated to take effect on March 1. On the chopping block is $13 million from the Head Start program, almost 4,000 rental housing vouchers will be eliminated and many more cuts that affect the poor will take place. These programs are vital to our African-American community, and cuts to them would disproportionately affect us. Unemployment benefits, for example, are crucial for our community’s survival as our unemployment rates are double that of our Caucasian counterparts. This is in direct contrast of the vision that both Dr. King and President Obama had for this country.
On Dec. 8, 1963, just four months after Dr. King’s legendary “I Have A Dream” speech, he gave another profound address at Western Michigan University where he said, “I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”
And in his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, President Obama said, “If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.”
In two entirely different decades, these men both knew that our nation needs economic fairness to thrive, and programs that support our people’s growth and progress to fuel our economic strength. Yet some of these programs are now facing automatic across-the-board budget cuts. These cuts called “sequestration” were pushed off by the outgoing Congress in January, and our current Congress must address these budget cuts and debt reduction measures by March 1st.
And though it may sound like everything under the sun is going to be slashed, contractors and CEOs are lobbying to exempt the Pentagon from reductions. The Pentagon budget, including funding for wars, outdated Cold War weapons systems, and an excessive nuclear arsenal, has grown nearly unchecked since 1998 and completely avoided an audit. If the Pentagon is exempted from sequestration, the programs our community depends on will suffer even deeper gutting.
Congress must stop kicking the can down the road and get serious about what is necessary to solidify our economic future. That means reshaping the Pentagon budget in a way that puts families and progress ahead of Pentagon pork, partisan politics, and corporate self-interest.
We are called to action from Dr. King’s and President Obama’s shared dream. It’s time to be our own lobbyists. The president said in his inaugural address this year, “But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”
When you hear the word “sequestration,” do not ignore it! Let your ears perk up and call yourself to action. We must not sit idly by while these programs are severely cut or eliminated. We must uphold our civic duty and contact our representatives. Let them know that we are listening and that we care. Ask your friends and family to take action with you. Call on your members of Congress to make smart decisions that include the Pentagon budget and prevent even deeper cuts to these vital programs. Let us all celebrate and honor Black History Month by becoming the drum majors for our economic future.
(Kimberly Niono is an African-American mother from Pittsburgh, Pa., and the program associate for Women’s Action for New Directions—a national nonprofit nonpartisan organization.)
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