martin luther king x sanitation workers

 Ernest Withers, 1968(photo:  Ernest Withers, 1968, via artsbma.org)

two garbage collectors, echol cole and robert walker, who were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck, and 1300 of their sanitation brothers were the reason mlk was in memphis on the day of his death in 1968. the workers, mostly black men, were operating dilapidated trucks, not being paid overtime, covered in filth, and making so little that they depended on public assistance to feed their families. they were demanding dignity for their work. the strike began on february 12 and by february 15, 10,000 tons of trash had piled up. the mayor of memphis yelled at the strikers "go back to work!" in a city council meeting and then hired mostly-white strikebreakers to keep the sight of trash off of his revenue-generating memphis streets.

the interesting thing about trash is that it is the evidenced-flaw in the capitalism system. economists and politicians prioritized their financial bottom line when encouraging the growth of the economy and the urbanization of cities, but little thought was given to the post-consumer life of products. trash men (and waste bins and waste management) are mechanisms that allow many of us to think that when we put something in that dark deep bin that somehow it goes 'away'. but in actuality it goes many places! peoples backyards, the sea, and countries with little GDP rank, to name a few.

these inadequacies are felt mostly by waste sanitation workers– the proverbial bottom of the barrel– who  witness our wasteful habits, our dirty little secrets, our undone tax papers, and privileged spending habits every mf day. there job is the job nobody wants. the job that wasn't thoroughly throughout. and the one we all depend on take our discards. if you made it this far, here's the tip: minimize your waste and hold the businesses/corporations you patronize to do the same.

 


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