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Fifty Years After the March on Washington, What Would MLK Be Marching for Today?

08/28/2013 02:36 pm ET | Updated Oct 28, 2013
AP

What would the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. march for if he were alive today?

America has made progress on many fronts in the half-century since King electrified a crowd of 200,000 people, and millions of Americans watching on television, with his "I Have a Dream" address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But there is still much to do to achieve his vision of equality.

Fortunately, many Americans are involved in grassroots movements that follow in his footsteps. King began his activism as a crusader against racial segregation, but he soon recognized that his battle was part of a much broader fight for a more humane society. Today, at age 84, King would no doubt still be on the front lines, lending his voice and his energy to major battles for justice.

In an op-ed column in last Sunday's Washington Post, I identified a number of contemporary issues, campaigns, and movements that King would surely embrace. These include:

Voting Rights -- Resisting efforts to impose photo IDs, end same-day registration, and other obstacles to voting made possible by the Supreme Court's recent ruling that weakens the Voting Rights Act.

Gun Violence -- Pushing for tougher limits on gun ownership and to eliminate state shoot-first "stand your ground laws".

Mass incarceration -- Protesting racial profiling by police and drug policies that have resulted in 2.3 million Americans behind bars, many for nonviolent, minor offenses.

Women's reproductive freedom -- Protecting women's access to health care and reproductive freedom -- and challenging those who are trying to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics.

Immigrant rights -- Standing with the young activists who call themselves "Dreamers" (a term that evokes King's 1963 speech) who are mobilizing for comprehensive immigration reform.

National spending priorities -- Working with unions, religious organizations and activist groups such as Code Pink to cut the defense budget, redirect money to help rebuild our cities and social safety net, and oppose Congress's recent cuts to food stamps, Head Start and other anti-poverty programs.

Income inequality and the working poor -- Joining the growing campaigns to unionize and improve pay and working conditions for workers who earn poverty-level wages, including Wal-Mart and fast food workers, and raising the federal minimum wage, which was one of the demands of the March on Washington.

Housing and predatory lending -- Working with community groups such as the Home Defenders League to pressure Wall Street banks to reset mortgages for underwater homeowners and strengthen laws that protect borrowers from lending abuses by banks.

LGBT equality -- Linking arms with the NAACP, the growing number of black clergy members, and the LGBT community to help push states to legalize same-sex marriage and end other forms of discrimination against gay Americans.

My Washington Post column provides examples of King's thinking on these issues and more specifics on these current movements. The best way to honor King's memory is to continue his struggle for social justice.

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).