At 16 years of age on the morning of August 28th, 1963, I woke up to a new day in our country. We felt so alone driving through the dark night from Milwaukee to Washington. That bright morning we were joining with hundreds of thousands of people for the Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
This day was my “Coming of Age.” I was a teenager consumed with studies, work, sports and friends. That day I felt beyond myself – that I was part of a great movement, a mass of beautiful, friendly people, of all races and ages wanting freedom and equality for all.
The kid that I was, I got lost from our group during the concert and was drawn to the steps of the Lincoln Monument where workmen were preparing the podium and sound system. I hung out near the scaffolding as the largest demonstration in history up to that time converged on the National Mall.
The program began and I was to the left of the great leaders from the civil rights and labor movements and the faith community who spoke to that time in our nation. I was pushed closer to the podium by Dr. King’s security as they led him to the microphone.
The crowd became focused on Dr. King and his every word as he read his prepared speech. I was about ten feet from him when Mahalia Jackson, the great gospel singer, shouted to him, “Martin tell us about the dream.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. set his papers down, rose up and began to preach giving his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech – words that inspired us all and generations to come. The words “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last,” still rings in our ears.
That day was the turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. It resulted in Congress passing the monumental “Civil Rights Act” later that year.
Dr. King was 34 at the time and during the next two years he became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and the “Voting Rights Act” was passed by Congress.
Then Martin turned his focus toward economic justice. President Johnson turned his back on him. The FBI intensified its repression with Cointelpro. King was assassinated at 39 in 1968.
Through no fault of Dr. King, the landscape of America has changed since that Great March 50 years ago.
As we commemorate this anniversary and Dr. King’s “Dream,“ the problem today is that much of America is still dreaming.
Back then, we marched against job discrimination, and today it still exists not only regarding race but also sex and age. Many jobs have been exported overseas for greater global corporate profits.
Back then, we marched for fair housing, and now we have mortgage foreclosures and homelessness.
Back then, we marched for education, and now we have seen affirmative action and “Brown vs. the Board of Education” pushed back.
Back then, we marched for voting rights, and today the Voting Rights Act has recently been weakened.
Back then, as voters we had an impact on Congress, and yet today corporate money and lobbying control our government.
If Dr. King were still alive, where would he stand today?
If he had survived to the age of 84 today, Dr. King would have continued as a voice of consciousness and he would lead among the elders of our world.
As King’s young life evolved in the “Beyond Vietnam” speech of 1967, “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism” were the most important issues of his time. Today his activism certainly would have continued with those issues and addressed the peace and justice issues of today.
In the words of Dr. Cornel West, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unbossed and unbought.”
King would be standing up for fair immigration laws that do not separate families and against the militarization of our borders.
He would speak out against continued discrimination in all areas including gay rights.
He would support the civil liberties of all and stand in solidarity with the whistle blowers and truth tellers of today.
He would be a leading voice to end drone warfare and all wars and occupations including Palestine while advocating to “Move the Money” from militarism to meet human needs.
He would stand up against corporate plutocracy, not only in our country, but the attempted corporate takeover of the world with so-called trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership.
If still alive today, Dr. King would be more likely to serve in the Green Shadow Cabinet than in the cabinet of the current White House.
Our March on Washington continues.
~ George Paz Martin serves as Peace Ambassador in the Foreign Affairs Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States.