Mr. Rustin and the Freedom Budget
By Tina Antolini
The year is 1967. Bayard Rustin, only a few years off of the triumph of organizing the 1963 March on Washington, is standing before a crowd of people. He’s laying out a plan to erase poverty from American cities and towns. It’s not just a pie-in-the-sky spouting of rhetoric, but an actual, tangible plan. He’s telling the U.S. government: do this, this and this—and maybe we can create a society in which everyone has jobs, health care, food on the table and a roof over their heads.
I sat listening to Rustin’s speech in late 2009, more than 40 years later. And what hit me was how many of the issues he lists have hardly progressed since that day in 1967. It’s a bit eerie, hearing someone speaking to you from the past, and it might as well be the present. Since the start of the current recession, especially, there are pieces of Rustin’s Freedom Budget that seem taken straight from a speech by President Obama about the need for federal stimulus to resurrect the sagging economy, and the necessity of government involvement to buoy up struggling families. Of course, Rustin puts his own charismatic spin on this message…
Check out this part:
Rustin’s Freedom Budget failed, despite strong early support from a range of groups and lawmakers. (To hear why, listen to Act 3 of State of the Re:Union’s Black History Month special about Rustin…) Who knows whether the Freedom Budget would have made the difference Rustin believed it would… But either he was a man ahead of his time– or the times have not changed all that much.
If you want, you can hear Rustin’s whole Freedom Budget speech here.