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Lee A. Saunders

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(Extra)Ordinary People

Posted: 08/28/2013 8:01 am

Of all the good and important words that have been spoken in the past week about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington, perhaps none are more remarkable than Sybrina Fulton's as she appeared on MSNBC Sunday morning:

"I think the most important thing that I can do is continue to fight and just be realistic and not expect things to happen overnight," Ms. Fulton told Melissa Harris-Perry. "It took a long time for everything to occur, so it's going to take just that time to try to get things on the right track. I'm giving my commitment not to give up until I'm resting in my grave... It's very important that we stick together, that we unite and we fight."

She continued: "I would... tell (people) not to give up. Don't be discouraged because sometimes how things look in front of you, it's a little gray and you get discouraged. Don't give up. Just continue, continue to take little steps, continue to take little steps and just be persistent."

Fulton, if you don't already know, is not an elected official, civil rights leader, church minister, or labor leader.

She is Trayvon Martin's mom.

And while it is absolutely certain that she would rather have her son alive than access to the center of any stage, her dignity and resilience set an astounding example for the movement that is growing now across the country, a movement AFSCME is proud to be a part of.

It is a movement of Americans who come in all colors, religions and creeds, an extraordinary movement of "ordinary" people who play by the rules, know the score and believe we can do better.

People like Ruth Feldman, a retired school psychologist, who recently wrote on AFSCME's Facebook page:

"Americans need to stop looking at one or two problems at a time and see the whole picture."

She went on to 'draw' that picture by connecting the dots, noting funding cuts to public education; the collusion between corporations and ALEC, the group that is responsible for "Stand Your Ground" and "Right-To-Work-For-Less" laws; the prohibitive cost of higher education; the tax structure that's put an exorbitant amount of wealth into the hands of a few; legal tax-dodging by the ultra-rich that keeps resources from helping all our nation's citizens; the unraveling of the social safety net; the lack of laws controlling pollution and destruction of the environment; the poor condition of our country's infrastructure; Wall Street's willingness to gamble with America's retirement security; and the broken immigration laws that have allowed our country to become a source of cheap, exploited labor.

It was a thoughtful, powerful indictment of a country that has failed to live up to its tremendous potential by failing to enforce a level playing field. And it echoes the hundreds of thousands of "ordinary" people who two years ago "Occupied" cities across the country and delivered a simple message that has resonated profoundly: Inequality is strangling us.

Yes, we have survived the Great Recession and employment is up.

But according to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working. They simply don't earn enough to support themselves and their families.

Indeed, low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become the norm, a fact that is celebrated in many corporate boardrooms because it widens the profit margin. ("There's class warfare, all right," billionaire investor Warren Buffett has noted, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war.")

Dr. King, who was assassinated in Memphis while working with striking AFSCME sanitation workers 45 years ago, could have predicted this crisis because he understood the need to connect civil rights, human rights, labor rights and economic rights.

Today, Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and no doubt remind us of the challenges our great country has confronted and overcome throughout the course of its history.

But it will be the resolve and fortitude of millions of "ordinary" Americans as they organize and mobilize together in workplaces, churches, schools and communities that reveal our true greatness.

 

Follow Lee A. Saunders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AFSCME

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