“War is an enemy of the poor”: US activists honor the anti-war legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Although seldom recognized, Martin Luther King Jr. was anti-war. His politics should be applied to demand an end to NATO and the war in Ukraine, say activists

January 16, 2023 by Natalia Marques
Claudia De La Cruz of The People's Forum speaks to a crowd outside of the US Army Recruiting Station in Times Square

“We are here, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said co-executive director of The People’s Forum, Claudia De La Cruz, to a crowd of hundreds gathered in Times Square, in front of the US Army Recruiting Station, on January 14. “We are here to reclaim his legacy and say: no to war.”

The organizers and workers mobilized to demand an end to NATO and a peaceful resolution to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The rally and march was organized by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, a US anti-war organization, and the People’s Forum. Activists raised slogans to demand a peaceful resolution of the war through negotiations rather than continued US weapons funding. Banners read “Money for our needs/Not the war machine” and “No to NATO/Yes to peace”.

With Congress passing a massive spending bill in December, containing over $44 billion in US aid to Ukraine, the United States is now set to spend over $100 billion total on the Russia–Ukraine War. Activists are demanding that these billions be used instead to fund public services, such as education, jobs and healthcare.

“We know we live in a city and in a country with a massive housing crisis. Millions of people [are] struggling to make it every single day.” Journalist Eugene Puryear told the crowd. A recent Bankrate poll revealed that 56% of people in the US could not cover a $1,000 expense without dipping into savings. “The Biden administration only increased the budget for housing by $12 billion. And on top of that, they cut from the budget: money for seniors who need affordable housing,” Puryear continued. 

“Not one more dime for war!” demanded Puryear. “And an all-out offensive for peace, and to change this imperialist war drive that’s gonna destroy the planet if we don’t stand up and say something now.”

De La Cruz also emphasized the impact of war on the working class. “Knowing who our enemy is is important. War is an enemy of the poor,” she said.

Boston-based organizer Rachel Domond spoke to the crowd about the recent police murder of 20-year-old Sayed Faisal in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We’re out here to oppose war abroad, right? But we’re also here to oppose war right here at home,” Domond said. “The city and the police department will do everything that it can to protect its own…we still do not even know the name of the officer that murdered our community member in broad daylight.”

“Peace is the right to live without fear. It’s the right to move about our lives in our communities safely. It’s the right to know that if we need help, we can get it,” Domond said. In 2022, US police murdered more people than any other year in recorded history. “This country doesn’t know justice. I mean how could it? When it spends more money on military and weapons than it does basic social services.”

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16, speakers paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s lesser-known legacy as an anti-war activist. King agitated against the US invasion of Vietnam, proclaiming in 1967 that the United States government was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has pumped billions of dollars in weapons into the Russia–Ukraine war, a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives to war violence and countless others to hunger and poverty due to the global cost of living crisis due to the war. 

The march from Times Square concluded in a teach-in at The Peoples Forum, a few blocks south. Hundreds congregated in the space to hear a discussion between De La Cruz, Puryear, and ANSWER Coalition executive director Brian Becker about the urgent need to reactivate the anti-war movement in the US. 

“We have to continue to fight for integration, collaboration, negotiations, because that’s been the only way of resolving conflict. War is a tool of our enemy,” said De La Cruz, in closing, to the crowd assembled inside The People’s Forum. “The only legit war is class war.”