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UFT joins D.C. event to reaffirm King’s commitment
by Michael Hirsch and Micah Landau | October 27, 2011 New York Teacher issue
Speaking at the National Cathedral just days before his assassination in 1968 in Memphis, where he had traveled to support striking sanitation workers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”
Forty-three years later, 3,000 UFT members joined tens of thousands of other trade union, civil rights and community activists on Oct. 15 for a march and rally reaffirming King’s commitment to jobs and justice and inaugurating the imposing carved stone memorial commemorating his life and legacy.
The 20,000 demonstrators, many carrying “I am a Man” signs invoking the striking sanitation workers’ rallying cry, rallied at the foot of the Washington Monument before marching to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The demonstrators chanted the slogan of the growing Occupy Wall Street movement — “We are the 99 percent!” — as they marched along the edge of the Tidal Basin.
Among the parade of speakers at the rally were Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Martin Luther King III, King’s eldest son; D.C. Mayor Vincent Grey; and UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
“Are we going to stand together and say once and for all, ‘Enough is enough’? Are we going to stand up and make it right?” asked Mulgrew, sparking the crowd’s approving roar. “The problem is it’s all about greed.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten noted that Dr. King called for policies that would improve the lives of everyone, but especially the poor and the vulnerable. “We didn’t heed his call and the nation today is in the midst of an economic crisis,” she said.
Alluding to Occupy Wall Street and its imitators in other cities across the country, she continued, “No wonder discontent is being played out in our cities. We have a privileged few and an impoverished many with a middle class squeezed.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, another featured speaker, rebuked Senate Republicans for refusing to allow a floor vote on President Obama’s American Jobs Act earlier in the week.
“If you can’t get the jobs bill done in the suites, then we will get the jobs bill done in the streets,” he told the crowd.
Yasmin Bailey-Stewart, a 7th-grade special education teacher at PS 323 in Brooklyn, said that she had taken the bus at dawn to travel to the nation’s capital like many other UFT members in the crowd to support the movement for jobs.
“We need to stand together. Unions are under attack and teachers are under attack,” she said, wearing a black UFT
T-shirt with an image of Dr. King and the slogan, “Believe Again.” “It was Dr. King’s wish that we have a peaceful transformation of this country so all the resources, including jobs, would be shared in an equitable way. That’s justice.”
Bailey-Stewart, who grew up in Jamaica, said she remembered the day Dr. King was killed.
“I was playing in the yard and my mother called me,” she said. “I was 8 years old. He was inspirational and he inspires still today.”
Jackson Farrell of IS 347, Brooklyn, said that it was important to honor Dr. King.
“His work is not finished,” Farrell said. “One of the things he was fighting for when he was assassinated was jobs and we definitely need jobs.”
Camille Eaddy, the chapter leader and math coach at PS 81 in Brooklyn, said she had taken the baton from her father, a civil rights activist in Canada.
“We need to continue fighting for the things Martin Luther King fought for: jobs, equality, education and sharing the wealth,” she said.
Victoria Clayton, a GED Plus teacher in Queens who was attending with her mother Edna Clayton, said she was a little girl when she heard Dr. King’s 1963 speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
“He inspired me,“ Clayton said. “What I have at this point in my life, I owe to him.”
A version of this story was first published on UFT.org on Oct. 15 at 6:03 p.m.