August 26, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Fifty years after the Great March on Washington great progress has been made to secure racial justice, but economic difficulties for millions of people still plague the nation. Labor, civil rights and religious organizations will gather in Washington, D.C on Saturday to commemorate the 1963 march by rallying and marching for greater economic opportunities.
Billed as the “Action to Realize the Dream March & Rally,” contingents of organized labor from New York will be boarding buses before dawn to drive and arrive at the Lincoln Memorial, followed by a march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Locals from the United Federation of Teachers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East are among the participants.
George Gresham, 1199SEIU’s President, said over 60 buses will be carrying over 3,000 1199 members from up and down the East Coast. In fact, the union was one of the main organizers of the 1963 march and chartered a special train that transported over 1,000 members from New York to Washington, D.C.
In an interview, Mr. Gresham said while the nation has made tremendous progress against segregation and racial intolerance since the 1960s, the recent Supreme Court decision to roll back protections against discrimination in voting in states with a history of discrimination reveals that America is not a post-racial society.
“It’s clear that we have made progress; no one could have imagined 50 years ago that we would have had a black commander-in-chief today. But the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down certain protections [of the Voting Rights Act of 1965] shows, unfortunately, that we still have to struggle,” said Gresham.
Five years after the Great March, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, which was demanding more jobs, unemployment insurance and a higher minimum wage. He said at the time, a few months before he was assassinated, that blacks and other minorities would never enter full citizenship until they had economic security.
Mr. Gresham reiterated that the country has made progress, but that widening disparities in income and wealth is troubling.
“The disparities, particularly in communities of color, indicates that we have a tremendous way to go before we have economic justice in this country. The disparities are almost the same, if not worse, than in 1963,” Gresham said.
While there will be a lot to commemorate on Saturday and on Wednesday, August 28, the day on which the Great March happened, Mr. Gresham said the anniversary is also an opportunity to demand policies that will promote good jobs.
“I absolutely see it as an opportunity. The value of this march is not to remember what we were able to do in 1963, but to use this as a platform to create a popular agenda that we can hold elected officials accountable to.”
Asked if he believes that the march’s organizers should follow up with their own version of a Poor People’s Campaign to address the country’s economic disparities, Gresham said he welcomes it.
“The more attention we can bring to this issue, the better off we’ll be. I don’t think one day is going to be all that it takes to change the conversation. As important as that one day might be, there’ll need to be follow-up because we’re not going to find on Monday morning back at work that these issues have been resolved.”