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Mary Kay Henry Headshot

Marching for an Inclusive Dream

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During the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, civil rights, faith and labor leaders pronounced racism and economic equality as "twin evils." They asserted that African Americans can never be fully enfranchised without also having access to economic opportunity.

As we fight these "twin evils" to this day, we are guided by the original march organizers.

We still experience bigotry and economic inequality in all its forms. In the debate over common sense immigration reform, we have seen racism rear its ugly head in the hateful rhetoric of reform opponents. Following the Supreme Court decision invalidating a section of the Voting Rights Act, several states took immediate action that threaten the voting rights of people of color. In the ongoing fight for marriage equality, we face intolerance in states where same sex marriage is still outlawed. The gap between rich and poor is growing larger than ever. Despite the recovery, 8 out of 10 new jobs are low-wage jobs. By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 48 percent of U.S. jobs will be low-wage. A whole generation is coming to terms with working hard and just barely getting by, never mind getting ahead.

These are the injustices we are committed to overcoming in our society. The 50th anniversary of the March provides as opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to fight for a Dream that includes us all.

Across the country, we are seeing fast food and retail workers do just that.

These workers are taking part in a fast-growing movement to lift their wages by engaging in one-day strikes to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without intimidation. By joining together, workers in these industries are pioneering a new approach to combatting economic inequality. They are prepared to lose their jobs to make their voices heard. Their collective public action is a spark in the movement for themselves, their communities and for us all.

We're proud to stand with these courageous workers who are asking their employers to pay them a living wage. Corporate profits are at an all-time high and they can afford to raise wages for the workers who make them successful. We'll all be better off when workers have enough money in their pockets to buy goods and services in their communities and, in turn, generate more jobs. Otherwise, low wages across the U.S. economy will continue to hold the recovery back.

We're proud to stand with all low-wage workers -- Black, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, all people of color and white workers -- who want to work hard for a living and create the conditions for their children to achieve the American Dream that includes us all.

Low-wage jobs are holding us all back. These jobs are held by people of color, 60 percent of them women, in disproportionate numbers, a legacy of our nation's founding economic system of slavery. The leadership of all low-wage workers -- fast food, retail, Wal-Mart, auto parts, security officers, family child care providers, hotel and restaurant workers -- takes a huge step toward eliminating structural racism. These workers deserve our collective support.

Under the leadership of the labor leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph and Walter Reuther, organized labor backed the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the broader civil rights movement because, as march organizers' wrote, "the fight for decent wages and working conditions will fail," without widespread economic empowerment.

Today, restoring opportunity for those who work hard and creating shared prosperity for all workers in this country requires radical change. We need business leaders to invest in family-sustaining wages with record profits. We need concrete policy solutions, such as raising the minimum wage and tax policy that gets the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. We need to ensure that workers collectively act to raise their voices on the job to lift wages and improve their lives through bargaining.

As we recommit ourselves to the goals of the historic march of 50 years ago, let's celebrate the guts of the fast food and retail workers who are actively standing up against the "twin evils" of racism and economic inequality. Let's honor the pioneering civil rights leaders who had the foresight to link the struggle for racial equality with the fight for economic justice.

Let's recognize ourselves as a nation that has made the impossible possible for some of us, and now let's make it a reality for us all.