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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

Now That We Have Marched, Let's Get to Work

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This past Saturday, approximately 175,000 to 200,000 people gathered and marched in Washington, D.C. to call attention to the civil rights challenges of our time. When Martin Luther King III and I called for this rally, it was widely assumed that we would not be able to get even 100,000 to participate. Those naysayers couldn't have been more wrong. At a time when so many Americans are gravely concerned about voting rights, jobs, gun violence and safety, hundreds of thousands traveled from across the country to join us because they understand the fierce urgency of now. While we acknowledge progress achieved during the last 50 years, we are not blind to the great injustices of today. On Wednesday, President Obama and others will commemorate the 'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.' We will be a part of that celebration, but we remain passionate about the continuation of the actualization of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that was represented on Saturday. Our work is far from over, but we, the people, are re-energized to tackle injustice head on.

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court of the United States gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, thereby eliminating federal pre-clearance requirements in areas that have a history of voter disenfranchisement. Part of the success of the 1963 'March on Washington' was the establishment of the Voting Rights Act. Fifty years later, as we witness a strategic method of undermining this historic legislation, Congress must take action immediately. We need this Congress to deal with a voting rights bill that guarantees the protection of all citizens, regardless of their race, class, socio-economic background, geographic location, religion, gender, orientation or beliefs. And we need this bill without delay as several states have already engaged in voter suppression methods like limiting the days of early voting, instituting draconian new photo ID laws, the elimination of same-day registration and more. My organization, National Action Network (NAN), and I will be going to North Carolina, Texas and other states to deal with these issues on the ground, and will target Congressional districts for voter registration and mobilization around issues, and not around any one political Party. Our democracy rests on the notion that each and every American has a vote and a voice in the process, and we will not allow anyone to turn back the clock to the days of poll taxes and literacy tests.

Last week, I discussed the state of Black unemployment. In 1963, the unemployment rate for Blacks was double the unemployment rate for Whites, and unfortunately, 50 years later, the same holds true. We must have a jobs bill immediately that begins to put people back to work. We cannot continue to demonize, castigate and ignore the plight of the poor and middle-class. When there aren't enough jobs, and when employers refuse to pay adequate wages, how can a mother or father be expected to put food on the table? When children's stomachs are aching from the pains of hunger, how can we ever think that they will perform well in school? And when students -- even college students -- enter the workforce with a sense of hopelessness because of the lack of opportunities, what kind of a nation are we leaving for the next generation? Much of the great society that Kennedy and Johnson instituted after the '63 march has been wiped out. Allowing this to continue would be a dishonor to both our past and our future.

Many of the inequalities that existed years prior were only rectified when the federal government intervened and protected the rights of Blacks and other oppressed groups. Today, we are tragically hearing much of the same talk of state's rights as we did decades ago. We must have federal laws that protect us against states nullifying and interposing their will over federal protections for all. State law and city policies like 'Stand Your Ground', or 'Stop-and-Frisk' in NYC violate people's fundamental civil rights which Dr. King referred to 50 years ago when he warned us of those whose lips drip with the words of interposition and nullification. We cannot allow this kind of history to repeat itself.

After the '63 march, people succeeded in garnering the Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of '65. With all the applause for our march on Saturday, the true success of this weekend will be what we achieve in the next year or two. Along with protecting the rights of minorities, we must protect workers' rights, the rights of immigrants, women and the LGBT community. Right-to-work state laws must be confronted, and mayors (including Black mayors) cannot sacrifice union members to correct deficits that workers did not cause.

Half a century after Dr. King's momentous march, we must continue to push for justice and equality; anything less will be a disservice to the memory of this great leader and all those that paved the way 50 years ago. It's not enough to commemorate them, we must emulate them and do what they did in our time. Let's get to work.