Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial by sodai gomi
iversary counterpart, a smaller event that nonetheless packed a wallop,.)
40th Anniversary March on Washington
for Jobs, Peace, & Freedom
August 23, 2003
Steps of the Lincoln Memorial
Sponsored by 100 Organizations, including
NAACP and National Peace Action
by Marta Steele
As Bush and Cheney have left Washington, DC, for August, spending
our tax money on their various travels to raise funds for election 2004 when
they're not otherwise relaxing, the poor people of this country have moved into
the district, having marched there from Mississippi led by Cheri Honkala,
founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights League. Let that be an omen of things
to come. The midsummer march, the tents by Washington Monument, and on August
23 the Fortieth Anniversary Rally for Jobs, Peace, & Freedom all bring to
mind and life the labors of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights miracle
worker who transformed society in this country and around the world. A further
major focus of the rally was the passing of the activist torch from the 1960s
generation to their lively hip-hop descendants, confident and inspiring in
their enthusiasm and commitment.
Forty years ago on August 28, Doctor King delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, site of the coalition rally last Saturday, and the point of the one hundred plus organizations was not so much commemoration as the challenges posed by the present reactionary takeover and what we can do to reverse the damage before all of the gains made since 1963 are lost. Now is the time to "walk the walk," as did the 2003 poor people's march. We have "talked the talk" to the fullest extent of eloquence and range our language affords. The next fifteen months are crucial to the future of freedom and equality. Prominent civil rights activists present, addressing the integrated crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, included Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Dick Gregory, among others. Also in attendance was the Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, though he did not speak. He has scheduled a rally in New York City on Tuesday, August 26, as part of his Sleepless Summer Tour, "a rally to take our country back."
The Reverend Ron Daniels, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, began the rally and introduced the three leaders of the hip-hop generation who were key organizers of this rally and to whom would be entrusted future activist endeavors to recover our lost democratic legacy: the Reverend Markel Hutchins, president of National Youth Connection, Inc.; Malika Sanders, president of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, Inc.; and Mark Thompson, human rights activist and WOL radio talk show host. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke of the need for full state rights for the District of Columbia, in that they pay the same taxes as the rest of us and fight the same wars but suffer inadequate representation.
"We hope you all take home freedom from here, where Congress acts as unelected czars to nullify the local will".Leave us some freedom, too!" she said.
Interfaith invocations were offered by Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim clergy. The press that day was well represented, with CSPAN filming and Reuters, TBS, a Japanese station, and a plethora of independents apparent, among others.
The keynote speaker of the day was Martin Luther King III, head, as his father was, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He recalled for the crowds that the 1963 March on Washington had been initiated by organized labor, that his father was more than a dreamer; that his immortal eighteen-minute speech dwelled on the "bad check this country gave to the Negro". His dream existed not just in eloquent speaking; he was a man of action; he also walked the walk, from Montgomery to Memphis for civil rights and ultimately human rights," King continued. "His dream was a challenge to the nation he loved".Today we are here to accept that challenge.
"People of color are denied their fair share of education and employment in our society," he said. "There are still incidents of racial violence. We must end oppression in the criminal justice system, end discriminatory persecution, abolish racial profiling and the death penalty; provide social and economic decency for all Americans. Too many people, 44 million, are living under the poverty line. The just community includes all people.
"44 million people have no health insurance," he went on. "And more don't have it to cover serious illness. The White House should cover every person and every illness." King then enumerated further crucial shortcomings of the present administration: "killing and bombing innocent women in the name of instituting freedom and democracy; air and water pollution, crucial health concerns--pollution that is no great respecter of political boundaries; senior citizens ripped off of retirement assets by corrupt corporations; lesbians and gays still subjected to persecution, discrimination, and violence. "Homophobia, a form of fear and hatred, has no place in this country," he said.
"We have a right to protest unwise economics and unsound foreign politics," continued King. "We should put hundreds of thousands to work to build nonpolluting mass transit systems." He further alluded to the gargantuan debts owed by Latin American countries and the Africans who must pay 30 percent of their national budgets on debt. "The IMF and World Bank should cancel the debts of the poorest nations," he said.