Moonwalk this: rockets or rickets?

There was a fascinating footnote to last night's BBC4 programme, Man on the Moon, which told the story of the US space programme and the billions spent to put a man on the moon before the Soviets.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 mission, with the massive Saturn rocket ready to thunder off from Cape Kennedy to accomplish the historic manned landing on the Moon in July 1969, a protest group of some 300-500 members of the Poor People's Campaign, approached the launch site.

The Campaign had been founded some eighteen months earlier by Martin Luther King Jr, just months before his assassination. Now the group was led by his successor as civil rights movement leader, Pastor Ralph Abernathy. To the high tech Cape Kennedy, the marchers brought with them a mule train, symbols of rural poverty of a supposed bygone age. "Rockets or Rickets?" was the slogan on one placard held aloft by a protesting black child.

As the Scotsman subsequently recorded: 'Abernathy pointed out to onlookers that, while many billions of dollars had been spent in achieving this moment, a fifth of Americans lacked adequate food, clothing and medical care. The NASA PR machine swung into action and Abernathy and a contingent of protesters were invited to watch the launch as guests of the space agency. The somewhat bemused pastor was asked to pray for the safety of the astronauts and, interviewed after the launch, commented: "I'm happy that we're going to the Moon; but I'd be even happier if we had learned to live together here on Earth." '

For many of America's poor, there hasn't been much progress in the 41 years since the Poor People's Campaign. In 1968, when King and Abernathy founded the Campaign, 25 million people — nearly 13 percent of the population — were living below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau. Today, 36 million people or more than 12 percent of the population, are living below the poverty level.

It's even worse across the rest of planet earth, with billions of our fellow humanity suffering poverty and indignity. That's why Amnesty has just launched the Demand Dignity campaign. Get involved.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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