In April, I was able to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., for the first time. I was lucky — all of the cherry trees were in bloom and wispy pink flowers framed the water, the grass and the statue. I had seen photos of the monument, but it was different seeing it in person — King actually rises up out of the stone. It is mighty. It is powerful.
So were his words 50 years ago, spoken at the March on Washington near the site of where his likeness now stands. “”I Have a Dream,” King said. His words echo today in textbooks, in classrooms, at rallies, and in the darkness and the light.
For some people, it will be hard to believe that 50 years have gone by. Those are the ones who are returning to Washington, D.C., for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights. They’ll be marching again, singing again and talking about solutions again. They’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with folks who weren’t even born 50 years ago; they’ll be passing on the history and the need to call out for change; and then go back home where they will keep making it happen.
The original march led to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act; the creation of Head Start and Medicaid. Voices are needed tomorrow to call for new protections, and to steady existing rights that have been wobbling under attacks from the wealthy and the protected.
Tomorrow’s anniversary march is a call for activism. There is an ache for jobs, voting rights and equality. There is a need to stop the attacks on public education and ongoing underfunding. There is need to stop voter suppression.
Buses are loading up today and tonight with groups heading to D.C. The UFT says all of its buses are full. NYSUT is sending buses from points across New York. Two full buses are leaving from NYSUT headquarters in Albany at midnight, full of unionists from NYSUT and from PEF.
“I want to take my part in history and then share my experience with my students when I go back to school,” said Leesa Crawford-Young, a guidance counselor with the Lansingburgh TA who is a bus captain for one of NYSUT’s buses.
AFT — one of NYSUT’s national affiliates — is sending hordes of members with the message that it’s not okay to attack the middle class and unions. AFT leaders, activists and staff, including the late AFT President Sandra Feldman, who was a graduate student volunteer that summer, worked closely with march organizers Bayard Rustin and legendary labor leader A. Philip Randolph.
NEA is showing up at the march in full force, and is also hosting a related civil leadership and organizing training conference that began yesterday and runs through Saturday with the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Inc.
The Coalition of Labor Union Women will be marching, meeting at 8:30 at the Smithsonian Metro Stop, and asking members to wear a CLUW t-shirt or hat or button.
People are coming by plane, train and automobile. The wheels are rolling.