Aug. 28 and Dr. King

8/26/2021, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 28 is the 58th anniversary of the historic March on Washington.

Saturday, Aug. 28 is the 58th anniversary of the historic March on Washington.

More than 250,000 people heeded the call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others and gathered on that day in the nation’s capital where they marched and heard speakers call for equal rights for African-Americans in this nation.

People most commonly reference Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the event pointing out that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

But if that’s the extent of someone’s knowledge of Dr. King, then we urge him or her to go back and read Dr. King’s books, speeches and letters that show the radical Dr. King. He pushed for living wages to lift families out of poverty. He called for an end to war and the military-industrial complex that sucks critical resources away from human needs in this nation. He also backed people taking to the streets to demonstrate—and going to jail if need be—for greater causes, such as voting rights and civil rights.

“There is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair,” he said in a speech to union workers in New York in March 1968.

“By the millions, people in the other America find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. ...The great tragedy is that the nation continues in its national policy to ignore the conditions that brought the riots or the rebel- lions into being.”

He said while the riots can be quelled “by superior force,” he couldn’t advise that people follow a path of “just sitting around signing statements and writing articles condemning the rioters or engaging in a process of timid supplications for justice.”

He continued, “The fact is that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed — that’s the long, sometimes tragic and turbulent story of history.”

On this Saturday, and at this time, we are both reassured and inspired by those who are reclaiming Dr. King’s legacy and tactics by marching in Washington and in communities across the nation to demand that President Biden and members of Congress stand up and take action against the assaults against democracy being perpetrated by ultraconservatives in state legislatures to nullify the voting power of Black and brown people.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law found that 49 states introduced bills this year to restrict voting rights, with about 18 states already enacting about 30 laws to restrict access to the polls.

Criminalizing giving water to people standing in long voting lines and barring early voting on Sundays are clear efforts to undermine Black and brown turnout for elections.

Unless federal action is taken by the U.S. Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, people of color and disabled people in many communities are going to face even greater obstacles in trying to cast their ballots in upcoming elections.

“Black voters’ ability to overcome unequal burdens (to voting) does not diminish the fact that those burdens exist. Nor does our Constitution countenance two systems of voting in this country — one in which Black and other marginalized voters require an independent, non-governmental apparatus to exercise the fundamental right to vote while white voters do not,” said Samuel Spital, director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. It is unlawful, he said.

We urge President Biden and members of the U.S. Senate to get rid of the filibuster so that Senate Democrats can pass voting rights protections. Republicans have found a way around the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for a measure’s passage, to pass tax cuts for the wealthy and to stack the U.S. Supreme Court with conservative justices. Voting rights are essential and we demand that the Senate find an exclusion to the filibuster to pass federal voting protection.

Additionally, we stand with the striking workers at the Mondelez International bakery plant in Henrico County near Richmond International Airport who were considered “essential workers” during the pandemic and put their health and lives at risk to continue producing Chips Ahoy, Ritz crackers, Nilla Wafers and Oreo cookies that are shipped across America.

The workers, who have been on strike since last week, are seeking “a fair contract.” According to the union, the company wants to require some workers to take on 12-hour shifts rather than normal eight-hour shifts, to eliminate overtime or premium pay on the weekends and make workers help pay for their health insurance benefit.

We must not forget that Dr. King was shot and killed in Memphis in April 1968 while supporting striking garbage workers who were protesting dangerous working conditions that denied their humanity.

We cannot turn a blind eye to companies and corporations that grow richer off the sweat of the workers whose humanity they deny. These injustices continue to exist even after decades of protests and struggle.

In releasing the 2020 census data on Aug. 15, the U.S. Census Bureau wrote, “Understanding the role of race is complicated because even before the pandemic, the Black population was more likely to be poor, less likely to have health insurance and more likely to work in the front-line jobs that put them at risk of both infection and unemployment during the pandemic.”

As Dr. King said, fairness and justice will not be given by the oppressor. It must be demanded.