U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Jackson Heights) credited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the day after the 51st anniversary of his assassination as one of the many people that inspired her to become a community organizer at a National Action Network meeting in Manhattan on Friday.

    “April 4th marked the 51st anniversary of his assassination,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “It was studying King as a young person that truly launched me to form the world view I have today.”

    As many political candidates launch their campaign for the 2020 presidential election, Ocasio-Cortez wanted guests at the event to remember that it was King’s work that helped to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    “So much of what he did is not discussed in our school rooms,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We simply think that we knocked on the door and asked for the right to vote and got it, but we all know that is not what happened.”

    The Voting Rights Act was passed on August 6, 1965, seven months after King launched a Southern Christian Leadership Conference campaign in Selma, Alabama to pressure Congress into passing the legislation, which was created to prohibit law enforcement officers and others who discriminated against blacks from voting with literacy tests, poll taxes, or sometimes physical assault, intimidation and harassment, according to kinginstitute.standford.edu.

    Rev. Al Sharpton hosted a National Action Network meeting on April 5 at the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. Photo by Naeisha Rose.

    “In 1968, Dr. King was taken from us at just 39-years-old. He was taken too soon,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “His life was taken by hatred. White Supremacy, racism, apathy, opposition to economic justice and gun violence.”

    Not only was King’s life taken too soon, but his work to bring about economic justice for the poor, blacks and union workers were also cut short, according to Ocasio-Cortez.

    “His ‘To the Mountaintop’ speech the night before his passing was about laborers and unionized workers. He was imagining an America beyond Vietnam. He was speaking to the ideals that all labor has dignity,” said Ocasio-Cortez, a former bartender “all the while educating America about its own history. The forces of bigotry and racism are not separate, or different from the fight for economic dignity, they are inextricable from it.”

    Ocasio-Cortez highlighted that before the Great Recession (2007 to 2009), banks disproportionately targeted blacks with subprime loans.

    A report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2015 stated that even after the 2009 to 2011 recovery period, black families lost 13 percent of their wealth after the housing bubble.

    “We don’t just see it with subprime loans, we don’t just see it environmentally with children drinking poison water in Flint or in my own backyard with children breathing dirty air in the South Bronx,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Bigotry, sexism and xenophobia are the easiest ways to divide and avoid substantive conversations on classism. Injustice of any kind is a loose thread on the fabric of society just waiting to catch. It will catch if we don’t address racism, the wealth gap – the racial wealth gap – if we don’t address mass incarceration, if we don’t address the disproportion of mental health care in our communities and if we don’t address the injustices in our immigration system.”

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