Grammy Award winner Muddy Waters was born in a ramshackle cabin not much bigger than a studio apartment in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Growing up in early 20th century Issaquena County in the heart of the rural, impoverished Mississippi Delta, Muddy earned his name by playing in the mud as a child. As he rose to stardom, he became a staple of Mississippi's music and an influence to countless others, inspired by hardscrabble living and empty pockets.
Nearly 100 years after Muddy Waters' birth, Issaquena County hasn't changed much. 2010 Census data ranks it as the 6th poorest county in the United States, with approximately 2,200 residents earning a median income at least $1,000 below the federal poverty line.
Life expectancies in some of Mississippi's poorest Delta counties are even lower than those in Honduras, the third-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The same Census figures ranked neighboring Leflore County as the 7th poorest in the nation. Even in an era where we have space-age technology in our pockets, one community in Sunflower County, Mississippi still has no access to running water.
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Though Mississippi is the nation's poorest state, we aren't alone in our squalor- those living in poverty in the United States outnumber the total population of Central America. Similar third-world living conditions have been described in major US cities like Detroit and Cincinnati. So how are our elected leaders responding?
-Instead of helping Detroit out of poverty, Governor Rick Snyder is raising taxes on the poor and cutting $300 million from schools in order to give away $1.7 billion in corporate tax breaks.
-Instead of improving the quality of education for kids in Ohio's public schools, Governor John Kasich is coddling trust fund brats. His budget ensures that 10,000 teachers will get pink slips while the estate tax is eliminated for Ohio's wealthiest 8% of estates.
-In Texas, which houses two of the nation's 10 poorest counties, Governor Rick Perry's budget will eliminate almost 350,000 jobs within two years. He's also giving an annual $1.4 million tax break to yacht owners.
-Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have proposed a draconian cuts-only budget, and refuse to accept Governor Mark Dayton's modest 3% tax hike for the wealthiest Minnesotans. Without a budget agreement, the Minnesota government is expected to shut down beginning in July, putting 36,000 state employees on the street.
And of course, Governor Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin just passed a budget in closed session that takes $800 million away from public schools and gives away $140 million in corporate tax breaks.
This is a coordinated assault- Republican Governors in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are all proposing equally unjust budgets that give money hand-over-fist to corporations and the super-rich while forcing thousands of state employees out of their jobs and depriving kids of a quality public education.
In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln said, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”
America was founded on the premise that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When our leaders deprive us of that pursuit, we have an obligation to rebel. Will Americans continue our acquiescence to the tyranny of those who chip away at the foundations of democracy, or will we abide by the words of our founders and collectively fight back?
A call for international strike is spreading from the UK to the rest of the world, where nations will unite in protest of the cuts. A nonviolent, populist uprising is on the way. Where will you be on June 30?
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