Congressman John Lewis, who was a King confidant and who was himself arrested many times, beaten and bloodied, and who is now a member of Congress from Georgia, spoke, as did Ben Jealous, head of the NAACP, Arline Holt Baker of the AFLCIO, Mary Kay Henry, head of SEIU, Randy Weingarten, head of AFT, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who drew a rousing round of applause. Pelosi told the crowd she was at the march 50 years ago and heard MLK Jr. speak. She observed that then there were 4 Black members of Congress back then and a Catholic in the White House; today there are 43 Black members of Congress and an African American in the White House. The Black Caucus members “are the conscience of the caucus” Pelosi said. And I was personally so pleased that she also said we need “not just a minimum wage but a livable wage.” That’s what we are fighting for right now in DC!
We ought to have been celebrating the gains made in the last 50 years and there have been many. The overwhelming sense I had from the crowd, however, which was both heavily African America and union, is that while many important gains have been achieved since Martin Luther King made his “I Have A Dream Speech”, just when you think things are going well, something monumental sets you back. The theme for this march was why the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin, the FL teenager shot while he walked back from a convenience store carrying nothing more than a bag with Skittles, ever happened? Are “Stand Your Ground” laws a chance for racists to carry out vigilante justice and get away with it? And how different is Trayvon Martin from Emmett Till? Nevertheless, it was a great day in Washington, with excellent speeches and an opportunity to reflect on King’s Dream – with the Trayvon Martin case, immigration reform stalled, and 15 million workers making minimum wage and having to work 2-3 jobs to get by, though, today was a reminder of how much more we need to do to get our house in order.