Painting a Vision of Economic Justice for All

by Elizabeth Johnsen, The Opportunity Agenda

There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize address, 1964

Yesterday, we marked Martin Luther King Day for the 35th time as a nation, amidst a global pandemic that has left 400,000 Americans dead, in a month when white supremacists violently stormed the nation’s capitol and 1.15 million workers filed claims for state unemployment benefits. Racism and poverty have always gone hand in hand, and this past year has cast a glaring light on the fundamental connection.

Dr. King was well familiar with the cause and effect between systemic racism and poverty. And yet, he also saw the truth that, as he so plainly put it in 1964, “we have the resources to get rid of it.”  As one of the wealthiest and most driven countries in the world, America has always had the resources to end poverty. Yet, perhaps what we need more than that is the will to eradicate economic injustice, and a vision for what Economic Justice and – intrinsically — Racial Justice truly look like.

That is what We Can Thrive Together: Visioning Economic Justice for All strives to accomplish through a bilingual discussion guide, stunning artwork for the field, lesson plans for students, and collaboration with leaders from the Economic Opportunity movement. The four pieces of original artwork by Rommy Torreco and Noa Denmon paint vibrant pictures of what a world with Economic and Racial Justice look like. Combine the artwork with the accompanying discussion guide on how to talk about Economic Justice, and we hope to empower advocates and members of the community with an actionable vision on Economic Justice for all.

At the core of these efforts is the steady work of advocates, activists, cultural strategists and artists. That is why this project – the downloadable artwork, the discussion guide (in English and Spanish) and four corresponding Economic Justice lesson plans developed for students, teachers and parents by our partners at Amplifier – is open source and available for free. We want these resources to contribute to the growing movement for Economic Justice by strengthening the narrative that ending poverty is within our reach, and that we have both the power and responsibility to do so.

Over the next three months, we will work closely with a group of Economic Opportunity advocates, cultural strategists, and activists to grow this project so that it will include more works of original art – created for and by the directly-effected communities who are central to this movement. The works of art will be anchored by our Economic Justice values: Voice, Community, Opportunity, and Security, all of which we elaborate on in the discussion guide. Uniting these values is the underlying theme of Racial Justice, which will shine through in the resulting artwork.

We hope that, by framing a discussion on why poverty and systemic racism exist, how they are related, and how we can ultimately overcome these original sins by addressing them head-on, we can begin to achieve our vision of Economic Justice for all. This means that we must work toward new systems and policies that provide everyone the opportunity for a dignified, productive, safe, and creative life.

As Dr. King also taught us: before the difficult work to change the world for the better can begin, you need to have a dream. You need to believe in the vision of a just society — a society of abundance and opportunity for all. You need to believe that poverty is solvable, and that we not only have the resources, but the collective will and determination to end it. We believe in this call to action, and we hope that you will join us.

Elizabeth Johnsen is the Director of Program Management and Impact at The Opportunity Agenda. Elizabeth also leads the organization’s economic opportunity work and has assisted in developing several tools for our partners on issues related to Paid Family Medical Leave and the three core pillars for talking about poverty. To find out more about Elizabeth, click here.

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