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MC: So does it make sense for the president to use his Nobel Prize speech to justify why America is at war?
BL: Yes because it was a reality. Barack always said he wanted to have transparency in his administration. So its not like he is going to say one thing here and something else over there. The fact that he believed this was the way he was going to approach what he described as a war against terrorism, which is responsible for a lot of the destruction of other people and also attacks on U.S. government.
MC: You are presently involved in nonviolent training in South Africa and Nigeria. What do you make of the failed bombing plot over the Detroit skies on Christmas Day by an alleged Nigerian terrorist?
BL: First of all we must evaluate the incident not on the basis of ethnicity. Yes he was Nigerian. but he could have been any other ethnic group from any other country. So we should not cast aspersion on Nigerians any more than we should cast aspersions on people from Iran or Iraq. Look, we’ve had American citizens participate in terrorism. The fact that you had someone from Nigeria or even that religion, that should not be criteria which we should evaluate that person and then pass aspersion on people from the same ethnicity or country. That is a mistake in making those kinds of assumptions. But we should look that individual and that individual’s experiences influence their behavior.
MC: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been demanding from the White House economic recovery programs that specifically target the African-American community to address massive unemployment in places like Atlanta and Detroit. Do you support that?
BL: Yes, it’s not because of the ethnicity. It is because of the economic situation they are in. They happen to be Blacks. But our approach to dealing with it has to be more universal; it affects not only Blacks but Hispanics and any other group that happens to be in that same economic situation. So yes. we should target the people who are mostly affected by the economic crisis.
MC: Do you support the current health care reform that’s already in the U.S. Senate to cover 30 million people despite the fact that critics say it is not the kind of a progressive legislation that would have had a public option?
BL: No. We could go much further than we are going at this point. That would be the goal. However, it’s better to have a half a loaf than none at all. We remember in recent history there have been others who have been trying to get health reform bills passed that would give more relief to the people who are most needy. But those bills have failed. The question is how much can we get now? Even in our Civil Rights Movement with King, many times we had to compromise on how we were going to get things we wanted. We never compromised on the quality but we had to compromise on the timetable. Many times we had to negotiate and come to some agreements because we’ve realized we’ve exhausted all the resources and possibilities and the time was not right for that and people were not ready for it. Now the question is whether we can get more out of this legislation. I don’t think Barack is satisfied with the bill. His desire is to really get more but its better to have a bill than none at all.
MC: Should there be another Poor People’s Campaign similar to the one that you put together in 1968?
BL: Absolutely. There should be an ongoing Poor People’s Campaign until we stamp out this unnecessary kind of a condition under which people live. We think that it is not necessary for people to live below livable wage. But our government should be responsible for making sure that everybody has the opportunity to work and be able to earn a livable wage. So we must put those policies in place and, like Barack said, every citizen should have the same kind of health coverage that those people in Congress have.
MC: What issues should President Obama tackle in this New Year?
BL: The economic circumstances and conditions that we face in our different communities and the unemployment situation. It is not just affecting the people who are unemployed those who are affected most by the unemployment are the children of these people who are unemployed, children who would not have the opportunity, children who would now have to drop out of school. If we can count the total, number of young people who are prepared to go to college, but now have to postpone that because their parents are not able to give them the kind of support they need. So the effect this is having on the people who would be employed in the future, they are losing the opportunity because they would not have the education, preparation. So it has a ripple effect, a more devastating effect in terms of our young people in the future. So those kinds of issues should be seen in a broader universal sense and not just count the individuals who are employed.
MC: As a theologian, how do you factor Black churches in this talk of change and helping the unemployed?
BL: The churches should play a leading role. Like in the movement we had churches playing a very important role in giving that kind of leadership. It is the institution that actually provides the value orientation of any kind of society. We are the ones who look at helping people understand their moral obligation to each other and most people, unfortunately, think about themselves and what they can get out of the situation without thinking about how they can contribute. We must be very concerned about our worth but not our wealth. And our worth can only be determined based on how much we can contribute to others.
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