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Widening Concern for Public Workers

It's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day on Monday, the holiday that celebrates the Nobel Peace Prize winner's birth and life. The Rev. King wasn't assassinated, as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords almost was, at a Congress on Your Corner. Or on a civil rights march. He was assassinated in Memphis, where he was showing up to support the right of public employees to organize, and strike. What have civil rights got to do with public workers' rights? To use President Obama's language in Tucson, we need to "widen our circle of concern" -- as King did -- when it comes to civil rights. Dr. King didn't distinguish social rights from economic rights, surprising as that may seem to the commentators who've shrunk down his story for convenience sake. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, and many of her contemporaries, King saw a linkage between legal rights -- being permitted, say, to see a quality doctor, attend a quality school, or live in a quality community -- and economic rights: actually being able to make a living that permits you do to any of those things. King saw public workers as the first line of defense. That's why he went to Memphis to stand by striking sanitation members of AFSCME, the public worker's union. In his view they led the way in the fight for fair pay and benefits... and in the fight for dignity for those who shovel our snow and clean our streets. Daniel Hernandez, the intern for Gabrielle Giffords who is credited with saving her life, said something Kinglike at Wednesday's memorial service. "We must reject the title of Hero and reserve it for those who deserve it, and those who deserve it are the first responders and the public servants and the people who have made sure they have dedicated their lives to helping others.” With exactly those workers under attack right now, Hernandez, the out gay son of an immigrant, was right on target. This Dr.  King day, we would all do well to join King and Hernandez -- and widen our circle of civil rights concern to include those who do the work that enables the rest of us to do ours clean, calm and safe. The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor ofAt The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at and Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on