02/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Fierce Urgency of Now

President John F. Kennedy called Inauguration Day "a celebration of freedom - symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change." This year, that is dramatically true. President-elect Barack Obama will place his hand on the same Bible President Abraham Lincoln used to take the oath of office. When he does so, at noon on Tuesday, Americans of every party will celebrate both renewal and a long-needed change.

When Obama spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church last year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, he told how the walls of Jericho were too strong and too high for the Israelites to pass through. But the Israelites were inspired by God to cry out together. Through the power of unity, the walls came tumbling down.

Our 44th President told the gathering that on the eve of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired people not with anger, but with a "fierce urgency" to come together. Dr. King said, "Unity is the great need of this hour. Unity is how we shall overcome."

As we celebrate Dr. King's birthday and the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, Dr. King's words remind us of how this nation will overcome the multitude of problems we now face. The straightforward truth is: We must face them together. We must be bold. And we must act now.

No campaign for social or economic change has ever succeeded in our nation without unity and urgency. In 1968, the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 united and stood up to the political leaders of Memphis and demanded to be treated with respect and dignity. Their cause was righteous. Their demands were just. And when Dr. King joined their cause, he spoke for an entire movement of people committed to fairness and equality. He insisted on "the fierce urgency of now."

Today's challenges demand no less of us. Think of the extraordinary circumstances that face us today - two wars that are costing lives, damaging our reputation and draining our treasury of needed resources here at home; an economy that threatens the fundamental existence of the middle class at risk; an unsustainable health care system that wreaks havoc on families, overwhelms government budgets and makes businesses uncompetitive; and a state and local fiscal crisis that could cripple the ability of government to meet the ever-increasing demand for vital services.

As AFSCME stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we are now standing with President-elect Barack Obama, calling for unity and urgency to deal with our current crisis. He will need our help to repair the damage that has been done during the past eight years. He will need our hearts, our minds and our spirit. That is why AFSCME has launched the "Make America Happen" campaign, to create jobs and jump start our economy, secure health care for all and protect our beleaguered middle class. As we celebrate Dr. King's legacy and Barack Obama's inauguration, you can join us as well. Just click here.