Most people remember Aug. 28, 1963 as the day Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. What most people don’t remember is that the exact title of the event was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
48 years ago, a coalition of civil rights, labor and religious organizations came together to bring their call for racial equality and jobs to the nation’s capital.
48 years after the event, a memorial honoring Dr. King has been built. While the formal dedication had to be delayed because of weather, the weather cannot deter what we need to do now.
While our country has made remarkable strides on the “freedom” part of the 1963 march in terms of racial equality for African-Americans, we continue to struggle on the “jobs” front. But this time there is no Dr. King to deliver a rousing speech. As a country, we need to remember his words that day and the actions of the hundreds of thousands of people to rouse our political leaders from their slumber.
The other night, as I drove by the memorial trying to get a better glimpse, I was struck to think that we live in a day and age where one side of the aisle in Congress refuses to let the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes, while the poor and working class bear the heaviest load. An age where, when right minded people ask to let lavish tax cuts for the super rich expire, one party calls it a tax increase and sends our leaders running for the hills. Shrinking from a courageous and simple solution, rather than doing what is just and fair to restore balance to how we give back to the economy of this great country we all enjoy.
An age where even the slightest attempt to bring balance back to the way we pay our fair share to ensure an economy that takes care of all of us, is couched as the greatest of sins in a recession. Yet when much more modest tax breaks for the poor and working class are set expire, suddenly it is expedient governing to look the other way and let the working class shoulder more of the burden of a faultering economy that has forsaken them.
And where is the dignity in that? Where is the equality that this nation was built on, and that Dr. King was talking about back in 1963? Where he stood before the nation, proclaiming that he refused “to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Where he called to the conscience of a nation that believes in fairness and equality as a central tenet of democracy, by reminding us that America had “defaulted on this promissory note.” Where he challenged us to be courageous in honoring what is most central to that democracy saying that, “we refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation.”
Our nation is not broken. What is broken is the courage and the will of our lawmakers to restore the balance of dignity and equality that is necessary to bring us out of this recession, and restore the promise of an American Dream that is accessible to everyone.
President Obama and Congress need to remember that dream, and not fail America by refusing to take the courageous steps necessary to restore its promise. Our leaders must go back and listen to Dr. King’s remarks, and be mindful that what he and thousands of others marched for that day are still very important issues we owe it to everyone in this nation to resolve.
Marvin Randolph is the Deputy Executive Director of Campaign for Community Change, of which Change Nation is a project.