“This really means making the movement powerful enough, dramatic enough, morally appealing enough, so that people of goodwill, the churches, labor, liberals, intellectuals, students, poor people themselves begin to put pressure on congressmen to the point that they can no longer elude our demands.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was resurrected this past weekend in Washington, DC. The new Martin Luther King Memorial, a powerful, granite symbol of Dr. King’s dream of equal opportunity and racial reconciliation, was officially dedicated on Sunday before a crowd of thousands on the National Mall. In his keynote speech, President Obama reminded the audience and the nation that even though, “We have a right to savor the slow but certain progress” Dr. King made possible, “Our work, Dr. King’s work is not complete.” The President called upon the nation to “draw from the strength of those earlier struggles,” to confront the crises of unemployment, poverty, inequality and division that still plague us today.
A day earlier, I served as co-chair of a rally and March for Jobs and Justice that was organized by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Thousands of citizens and dozens of civil rights, human rights, and labor leaders joined us in a call for concrete action during a march from the Washington Monument to the new King Memorial. We marched for the 14 million Americans who remain out of work. We marched for a jobs bill. We marched in solidarity with citizens who feel left out by corporate interests, let down by their political leaders and left behind by the economic recovery. We marched for worker rights…for voter rights…for equal justice under the law. And we marched to the beat of a constant refrain: “What do we want? Jobs! When do we want it?” Now!”
The common thread tying together Saturday’s march and Sunday’s Memorial dedication is the re-emergence today of the same kind of bold, grassroots action that Dr. King so courageously used in his fight for civil rights and economic justice. With overall unemployment at 9.1 percent and the African American rate at 16 percent, it is time for the rising voices of the people -- from Wall Street to Washington -- to be heard. We should not forget that Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 while leading non-violent demonstrations to secure dignity and living wages for black sanitation workers in Memphis. He was also planning a new nationwide campaign for jobs and opportunity that would involve citizen protests in cities and rural districts across the country and culminate with another historic march on Washington.
Like the nation’s founders, Dr. King understood the power of “We, the people” to build a More Perfect Union. He relied on groups like the National Urban League, SCLC and the NAACP to mobilize, organize and empower the foot soldiers of the movement. And he inspired us to press on in the face of barriers and setbacks.
Dr. King’s life has been a guiding light in my own career in public service. While I am proud of the new Memorial on the National Mall, I can think of no better way to honor his legacy than to stand with groups like the National Action Network and millions of Americans in the on-going struggle for jobs and justice.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.