It has been 46 years this week since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum. Over four decades since his senseless death. Over four decades later, we are still fighting for the same rights, privileges, access and way of life we all deserve as Americans.  

So many have tried to turn the tides on American freedoms.

One may say the idea of freedom is to be able to do whatever one wants to do, no matter what—that there are no safeguards or boundaries. In the end, what that translates to is those with money and access can, and those without cannot.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, raising the limit on the amount individual donors can give to the national and state parties. Before this ruling, a donor could give up to $123,200 to candidates and parties over a two-year election cycle. Now, an individual can give in excess of $3.5 million in an election cycle.

These numbers are outrageous. The idea that one donor can change the face of an election is dangerous. It moves the whole conversation from who is the best candidate to who can get the best money behind them. These millions of dollars that will be spent on spinning the truth and trying to win at all cost will only hurt the constituents. They will no longer get the person who best represents them; they will get the person who best represents their financial backer. Ordinary people will be pushed aside from the political process, and only those with access to “real money” will have a chance.

And we agree with Rep. Charles Rangel when he stated that the ruling effectively undermines “the power of the people to choose their own elected leaders.”

In the 2012 elections, elite donors (those who gave at, over or within 10 percent of the aggregate contribution limits) contributed $155.2 million to parties, political action committees and individuals. According to Demos and U.S. PIRG, those same 1,219 elite donors could have given $459.3 million if this ruling had come before the last presidential election. Demos says that is nearly 50 percent more than the total amount that President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney raised in small contributions from more than 4 million people.

This ruling takes working class and poor people out of the political process. It will allow the conservative right to fund their right-wing candidates at such a level that few underdogs will be able to pierce the shield of wealth. And with the new breed of politicians we will get there, there will be a new full-on assault on voting rights, civil rights, marriage equality and gun control. We have come to a dangerous precipice, and the outcome looks grave for our communities.  

In 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign, led by King, was motivated by economic justice and the need to eliminate poverty. As part of the campaign, the committee of 100 came together to demand an “Economic Bill of Rights.” This Economic Bill of Rights had five pillars:

  • “A meaningful job at a living wage”
  • “A secure and adequate income” for all those unable to find or do a job
  • “Access to land” for economic uses
  • “Access to capital” for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
  • Ability for ordinary people to “play a truly significant role” in the government

Slowly but surely, despite the gains made over the 46 years since King was taken from us, with this recent Supreme Court ruling, we are now witnessing the evisceration of the fifth pillar, as was done with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If we ever thought we didn’t count, now we actually have the proof.