In the United States this past Monday Americans celebrated the birthday of African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. King remains an essential icon of the Civil Rights Movement that fought from the white power structure basic human rights for African-Americans. The Civil Rights Movement won for African-Americans such basic civil liberties as the right to vote, equal education and work opportunities, and the official ban of individual and institutional discrimination. But there was also another important civil liberty victory: the fair and equal access to basic health care.
Unfortunately, celebrations like Dr. king’s birthday, and a greater right to basic health care, hasn’t yet been achieved everywhere in the world. Similar movements for universal or equal access to health care haven’t yet succeeded elsewhere in the world for a variety of reasons ranging from oppression and racism to lack of resources and extreme poverty. African communities are especially hard hit by intractable health problems and the lack of access to basic health care.
The African-American Civil Rights Movement started in small communities in the southern United States. With the help of inspirational leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., the grassroots campaign swept across the country ultimately leading to a systematic and institutional change in the treatment and experience of African-Americans. The term “grassroots” is usually associated with approaches to community development in developing countries. However, Dr. King utilized grassroots strategies to build a society-altering movement.
Dr. King’s efforts behind the Civil Rights Movement are great examples of how cooperation between small communities and grassroots efforts can lead to comprehensive societal changes. Movements like these can be applied to small communities in African countries. They have the potential of making the same huge strides forward in access to basic health care (among other basic human rights) as Dr. King did beginning more than fifty years ago in the United States.
Of course Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a tribute to one of the greatest civil libertarians in American history. But it can also serve as a lesson for social development, movement politics and social change and progress. Dr. King and the other heroes of the Civil Rights Movement prove the power of a strong grassroots movement.