August 28th will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Many remember it as a civil rights march, chiefly because of Martin Luther King’s memorable, “I Have A Dream” speech. But some will recall that the full name of the demonstration, “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” identified poverty, job discrimination, and racial equality as the primary issues that the organizers sought to lay before the conscience of the nation.
The stated demands of the six organizations that planned the march were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection of demonstrators against police brutality; a major public works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2.00/hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority.
We can look back with some satisfaction over those 50 years that have passed since that day when 250,000 people of all races, religions, and cultures, and from disparate parts of the country came together and marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. We can point to the progress that led to the end of segregation and increased economic opportunity for people of color. We can acknowledge that civil rights laws have been enacted that not only insure equality of treatment for black Americans, but for women, gays, and lesbians as well.
But we also must admit that neither Dr. King’s dream nor the lofty aspirations of the marchers on that day have been fulfilled, and that the battle for justice continues. So we march on.
This Saturday, August 24, many will take to the streets again not so much to commemorate that great march of 50 years ago, but to carry forward the legacy and the dream that was birthed by the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This renewal of our commitment is called the “National Action to Realize the Dream March.” Its goal: to bring to the nation’s attention the unfinished work that lies before us:
- Jobs & the Economy. Unemployment still plagues far too many of our community. The unemployment rate in the black community is nearly double the rate in other communities. Youth unemployment is six time higher.
- Voting Rights. The Supreme Court’s recent dismantling of key pieces of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 now leaves thousands of voters susceptible to state efforts to disenfranchise immigrants, the elderly, and people of color.
- Workers’ Rights. A disturbing rise in the number of low paying jobs offering no benefits or health care can be found in every section of the country. Public and private employers are systematically outsourcing jobs to other countries and aggressively battling unions and others who are demanding fair pay and worker protections.
- Criminal Justice, Stand Your Ground & Gun Violence. The Trayvon Martin case, the prison pipeline, sentencing disparities and racial profiling all point to the need for a drastic overhaul of our criminal justice system. Gun violence, once an issue conveniently dismissed as a “black problem” has now spread to communities like Sandy Hook. Effective state and federal laws that rein in the too easy sale and proliferation of guns is the only answer.
- Women’s Rights. Many states are threatening the right of women to choose through legislation that not only restricts abortion rights but access to affordable health services as well.
- Immigration. Immigration reform continues to be held hostage in Congress while the status of many continues to hang in limbo. An honest and sensible path to citizenship must be found now.
- LGBT Equality. Recent progress has been made with 13 states now allowing gays and lesbians to marry and the Supreme Court’s decision overturning DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. However, many vestiges of discrimination remain to be overcome.
- Environmental Justice. Toxic waste sites, coal burning plants, and environmental spills occur with far greater frequency in communities of color. Steps must be taken at both the local and federal level to restore clean air and water to these areas.
- Youth. For the first time in the history of this country, we are at risk of leaving our children a legacy of little or no hope for a better future. The growing disparity in incomes between the wealthy and the poor, the dramatic increase in the cost of education, and the uncertainties of the job market have conspired to make the American Dream seem nearly impossible for many of our youth.
On August 24 and 28, pray that our nation’s people faced with the great challenges before us, will summon the courage and determination of those who took part in the March on Washington 50 years ago — that we claim the Dream not as legacy but as birthright.