If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would focus on the issue of poverty more than anything else, according to Clarence Jones, King's former attorney and speech writer.
At the time of his death, King was concerned about the broad question of income and equality, said Jones, now a Palo Alto resident.
On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Jones is challenging Silicon Valley to do more to fulfill the "jobs" part of King's dream.
"Silicon Valley is like an island of affluence surrounded by a sea of poverty," Jones said, quoting from a May 27 New Yorker article by George Packer, a journalist and Gunn High School graduate, titled "Change the World: Silicon Valley transfers its slogans and its money to the realm of politics."
"The only difference is occasionally the people on the island want to acknowledge it, but most often, they would like to go about their business as if it didn't exist," Jones said.
While often touting its role as the leader of change throughout the world, Silicon Valley has ignored the struggles of its neighboring cities, said Jones, a scholar in residence and visiting professor at Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Instead, it has lobbied for government policies to bring 138,000 immigrants to work in the valley.
That lack of commitment to develop any domestic-jobs initiatives is tantamount to "throwing African-American high unemployment under the bus politically," he said.
King would weep, he said.
"He would certainly identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement's efforts to point out the tremendous disparity in the accumulation of wealth, which grows from the absence of having equal access to opportunities," Jones said.
King would look at what was creating or contributing to a person's poverty systemic issues such as inequality in education.
"If you look at the per capita, per people expenditure of what certain school districts spend for the education of their children as opposed to other school districts, why is it that some school districts will spend an average of, I don't know, $15,000 per year, $8,000 a year and some will spend an average of $30,000 a year?" Jones asked.
"Well, they say, 'It's because it's the tax base. People who come from the wealthiest communities can spend more money.'
"Well, Dr. King would say you have to rise above that. We have to get into a situation that if you really mean equal opportunity that you have to allocate the same amount of dollars to educate every child, to give them an opportunity. There are independent capabilities to lead them out, but at least give them the resources," he said.
East Palo Alto's school dropout rate and violence are good examples of how Silicon Valley has not offered leadership, he said.
"How can they sit silently when they know what's going on in East Palo Alto? It's a disgrace. It's immoral. It's obscene. So don't tell me how much contribution they made. I've seen with my own eyes. I drive through the community. If Silicon Valley and Palo Alto really wanted to make a difference in stopping the high drop-out rate, if they really wanted to make a difference in affecting the programs that would stop violence, guess what? They could do it. There's a trillion-dollar platform of wealth in Silicon Valley," he said.
Clayborne Carson, executive director of the King Research and Education Institute at Stanford, agreed.
"It was called 'The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.' Often Americans forget the jobs part of it. In 1968 when King was assassinated, there was a national policy in the United States to eliminate poverty. Today any political candidate who said that as part of their platform would probably be eliminated. We don't tend to think that big anymore," he said.
Silicon Valley and the late civil-rights leader share one quality that could greatly advance King's dream, Carson said communication.
"King was the greatest communicator of the 20th century," he said.
"We are at a turning point. The (digital age) can be a tool for repression or a tool for democracy. Silicon Valley will have a major role in how that plays out," he said.
Each age of advancement has had its positive and negative social and political impacts, and the digital age is no different, he said.
Jones is hopeful that Silicon Valley could truly be the key to fulfilling King's dream.
"One thing positively I can say about Silicon Valley, I really believe that there appears to be the collective innovative intellect here that if supported or funded with the appropriate resources, could address the issue of unequal education. They might in some ways be able to do it better than government if they have the commitment and social conscience to do so.
"We can solve the question of how to get a man to the moon. Apparently, we have the technology now to monitor every telephone call, OK? And to monitor every email. We have enormous technology. Well, guess what? Why don't we just monitor every block in which there's poverty in America and say, 'What are we going to do about it?'" he said.