01/20/2014 02:02 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Progressive Activists Look To Reclaim MLK's 'Radical' Legacy On Wage Equality

Progressive activists in Chicago honored Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Sunday by calling for economic equality, drawing a crowd of 2,000 to a church on the city's South Side.

Rev. Dwight Gardner, a local grassroots organizer who helped coordinate the event, urged activists to go beyond the late civil rights activist's calls for peace and tie his legacy to wage disparity and other economic issues plaguing the country today.

“If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists,” Gardner said during his keynote speech, according to the Chicago Tribune. “To paint him with only the hope that we can all just get along does his legacy a disservice and confuses Dr. King with Rodney King.”

Gardner said the event, titled "Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King's Radical Vision of Economic Equality," aimed to refocus public attention away from a "toothless" depiction of the activist.

“Today and tomorrow there will be thousands of celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said, according to the Tribune. “Today, in this celebration, we will not lift up the toothless, scrubbed and anesthetized Dr. King as created by mainstream media and the ruling elite. But we will uncover the real Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his vision for economic equality.”

As attendees used the hashtag #RadicalMLK to promote the message of Sunday's event on Twitter, other speakers highlighted how King's message addresses issues beyond racial inequality.

"We weren't just trying to bring people together to celebrate, but to get inspired and go out and work," Elliot Zashin told ABC7 Chicago of Sunday's event.

ABC7 notes that several politicians were in attendance, some of whom pledged to follow up on Sunday's event with legislation aimed at economic reform.



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