Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - August 23, 2013

Can Silicon Valley move King's 'Dream' forward?

King scholars challenge tech leaders to commit to local social change

by Sue Dremann

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would focus on the issue of poverty more than anything else, according to Clarence Jones, King's former attorney and speech writer.

At the time of his death, King was concerned about the broad question of income and equality, said Jones, now a Palo Alto resident.

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Jones is challenging Silicon Valley to do more to fulfill the "jobs" part of King's dream.

"Silicon Valley is like an island of affluence surrounded by a sea of poverty," Jones said, quoting from a May 27 New Yorker article by George Packer, a journalist and Gunn High School graduate, titled "Change the World: Silicon Valley transfers its slogans — and its money — to the realm of politics."

"The only difference is occasionally the people on the island want to acknowledge it, but most often, they would like to go about their business as if it didn't exist," Jones said.

While often touting its role as the leader of change throughout the world, Silicon Valley has ignored the struggles of its neighboring cities, said Jones, a scholar in residence and visiting professor at Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Instead, it has lobbied for government policies to bring 138,000 immigrants to work in the valley.

That lack of commitment to develop any domestic-jobs initiatives is tantamount to "throwing African-American high unemployment under the bus politically," he said.

King would weep, he said.

"He would certainly identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement's efforts to point out the tremendous disparity in the accumulation of wealth, which grows from the absence of having equal access to opportunities," Jones said.

King would look at what was creating or contributing to a person's poverty — systemic issues such as inequality in education.

"If you look at the per capita, per people expenditure of what certain school districts spend for the education of their children as opposed to other school districts, why is it that some school districts will spend an average of, I don't know, $15,000 per year, $8,000 a year and some will spend an average of $30,000 a year?" Jones asked.

"Well, they say, 'It's because it's the tax base. People who come from the wealthiest communities can spend more money.'

"Well, Dr. King would say you have to rise above that. We have to get into a situation that if you really mean equal opportunity that you have to allocate the same amount of dollars to educate every child, to give them an opportunity. There are independent capabilities to lead them out, but at least give them the resources," he said.

East Palo Alto's school dropout rate and violence are good examples of how Silicon Valley has not offered leadership, he said.

"How can they sit silently when they know what's going on in East Palo Alto? It's a disgrace. It's immoral. It's obscene. So don't tell me how much contribution they made. I've seen with my own eyes. I drive through the community. If Silicon Valley and Palo Alto really wanted to make a difference in stopping the high drop-out rate, if they really wanted to make a difference in affecting the programs that would stop violence, guess what? They could do it. There's a trillion-dollar platform of wealth in Silicon Valley," he said.

Clayborne Carson, executive director of the King Research and Education Institute at Stanford, agreed.

"It was called 'The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.' Often Americans forget the jobs part of it. In 1968 when King was assassinated, there was a national policy in the United States to eliminate poverty. Today any political candidate who said that as part of their platform would probably be eliminated. We don't tend to think that big anymore," he said.

Silicon Valley and the late civil-rights leader share one quality that could greatly advance King's dream, Carson said — communication.

"King was the greatest communicator of the 20th century," he said.

"We are at a turning point. The (digital age) can be a tool for repression or a tool for democracy. Silicon Valley will have a major role in how that plays out," he said.

Each age of advancement has had its positive and negative social and political impacts, and the digital age is no different, he said.

Jones is hopeful that Silicon Valley could truly be the key to fulfilling King's dream.

"One thing positively I can say about Silicon Valley, I really believe that there appears to be the collective innovative intellect here that if supported or funded with the appropriate resources, could address the issue of unequal education. They might in some ways be able to do it better than government — if they have the commitment and social conscience to do so.

"We can solve the question of how to get a man to the moon. Apparently, we have the technology now to monitor every telephone call, OK? And to monitor every email. We have enormous technology. Well, guess what? Why don't we just monitor every block in which there's poverty in America and say, 'What are we going to do about it?'" he said.

Comments

Posted by John, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm

"How can they sit silently when they know what's going on in East Palo Alto? It's a disgrace. It's immoral. It's obscene. So don't tell me how much contribution they made. I've seen with my own eyes. I drive through the community. If Silicon Valley and Palo Alto really wanted to make a difference in stopping the high drop-out rate, if they really wanted to make a difference in affecting the programs that would stop violence, guess what? They could do it. There's a trillion-dollar platform of wealth in Silicon Valley," he said."

[Portion removed.] EPA needs to start with its leaders DEMANDING common decency and old fashion morality. Poverty is no excuse for crime. Jones is WAY off base. [Portion removed.]


Posted by lmftfy, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm

"Jones is WAY off base."

Here, lmftfy....

"JoHN is WAY off base."

All better.


Posted by Charter this, a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 23, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Honoring Martin Luther King? Palo Alto?...Only if this is a wake up call!
and not just another City of Palo Alto attempt at "innovation" for being acknowledged by Obama?

Palo Alto is a "Walmart City". Palo Alto is charter city that does not support prevailing wage and Palo Alto does not have to! Being a charter city in California means that Palo Alto - one of the very richest cities in the California can avoid paying state funded project workers prevailing wage on projects using California tax payer monies. The City of Palo Alto supports the exploitation of workers and the exploitation of California state tax dollars.

Affirmative Action ended in California, and apparently so did our diversity awareness. Palo Alto did not pick up the ball on that one...where is outreach hiring for minorities?
Oh yeah, sitting on Newell and Palo Alto Ave.

Palo Alto is not at all sensitive to the needs of the lesser economic and minority populations in it's midst. Palo Alto works to exploit minorities. That's why we are a charter city.










Palo Alto is fun! ...Gotta' love a city where people would suggest we help the animal shelter first because it does more good than helping in their vehicles.. LOLOL! COMMUNITY AID? ... the proposition to give aid to people living in their vehicles? ... Isn't this the city that ended the community services help/referral phone line and community aid kiosks?

NON DISCRIMINATORY? Martin Luther King Plaza dedication? Isn't this the city that ended the collection of racial profiling data? With the premise that the city would address it if it became a problem? Need a the police? Look two blocks in form any north city gateway.

RESTRICTIONS on living in your vehicle?...Isn't this the city that's 1200 units behind on low income housing? GREEN? It's a commuter destination for work because there is not affordable housing.

JOBS? IF "those people" aren't working it's because they chose not to?! Have you been out there looking for a job lately ? Lots of PT and $10 -15 dollar an hour jobs. And the financial sustainability level here is what? ...$45,000 is poverty for a family of 2.

BUT WE HAVE FANTASTIC REAL ESTATE VALUES HERE & SUPER SCHOOLS!

Face it - we are out of touch...The majority of people who live here either inherited their homes, bought 30 years ago, or are millionaires...

If we actually have housing here it's because "it's for those of us who DESERVE IT!"

..eat cake.


Posted by Norman, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2013 at 10:39 am

In the 60's the civil rights movement took a wrong turn. The leaders and the Democratic Party decided that integration and affirmative action was the way to equality. That has not turned out to be the proper path but it is still being pursued and demagogued.

The path to equality is education. We cannot have an African-American community that is equal to the rest of the country, equality in economic wellbeing for instance, without their educational attainments being equal to the rest of the country.

Better the leaders of African-American rights reverse their efforts from 95% complaining about the inequities in 'the system' and 5% on the education of their youth to the other way around. We'll all know that the tide has turned when we see marches on schools and parents turning up at PTA meetings rather than sing-song, black preacher-type speechifying.


Posted by Jimmie C, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2013 at 11:33 am

"The leaders and the Democratic Party decided that integration and affirmative action was the way to equality."

Yeah, we should have listened to the Republicans and the Dixiecrats (that soon fled to the GOP) and kept the laws the same. Jim Crow would have fixed everything!

As republican presidential contender Rand Paul says, he wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Act of '64. He's going to get a lot of Republican votes, from a whole lot of folk that detest Obama for a single reason. All you have to do (if you have strong enough a stomach) is listen to right wing radio for a bit. Like on last night's show, how Michael Savage (real name Michael Wiener) again claimed the "coming race war" is Obama's fault.

Wow.

We need MLK.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


To post your comment, please click here to Log in

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
or register. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.