We Must Win Back the American Dream for the 99% In 2012

Tent tarps flapped against the wind and rain pellets bounced off wooden planks on the ground of a muddy National Mall. All the while, Edward Jude, a gray-bearded, African-American veteran, waited patiently to discuss his role in highlighting the nation's jobs emergency and its impact on African Americans. He came to Washington, D.C. with thousands of unemployed workers and activists to "Take Back the Capitol" and win economic justice for America's 99 percent.

Jude, however, discussed something even deeper in his radio interview. He connected the game-changing similarities between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s active support for the labor movement and today's fight to protect working families from extreme Republican lawmakers, Wall Street CEOs and millionaires who are determined to crush the dreams of hardworking families.

As we honor Dr. King's legacy this year, we must remember that working families deserve economic justice, including America's 13 million unemployed, the long-term unemployed and the 24 million people looking for work.

Dr. King's legacy of fighting for economic justice for all is just as relevant today as it was when he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech 49 years ago.

Wrapped in an American flag and sitting under a tree, Edward Jude made a point-by-point case about why remembering Dr. King's dream for economic justice is still urgent for all workers, including African Americans suffering through a 15.8 percent unemployment rate while the rest of the country experiences job growth.

He spoke plainly and poignantly, telling the radio host: "People like us are losing our homes; sitting up with lights cut off in the cold; in the winter months -- no heat. Something has got to change." As he put it, the 1 percent is getting away with just about everything.

Since that interview, right-wing Republicans have continued to turn their backs on America's working families. They have refused to extend unemployment insurance benefits for 1.8 million Americans, pushing instead for repeal of the Affordable Care Act that already delivers better preventive care to more than 5 million Americans. And right now these same Republican lawmakers are pushing for voter identification laws that disproportionately impact African-Americans, Latinos, college-age voters, the elderly and the poor -- those who are most likely to vote for President Obama's re-election this fall.

This is not social or economic justice.

Dr. King embraced the labor movement and the fight for fair treatment, decent wages and dignity in the workplace. He attended countless labor gatherings, and often joined workers on the picket lines. When the 1199SEIU drive to organize New York City's voluntary hospitals began in 1962, Dr. King called New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and urged him to support collective bargaining legislation.

Working families, even some of our friends and neighbors, are in the fight for their lives. Now is the time we must unite to help move America forward by putting people back to work and building a better country for all. We cannot allow extremist Republicans in Congress to protect tax loopholes for the 1 percent, to make devastating cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and to give free reign to Wall Street banks that wrecked our economy.

Edward Jude's reflections should remind all of us about the entwined relationship between the American labor movement and the civil rights movement -- both are based on the basic principles of fair treatment, dignity and economic justice for all.

With so much at stake for America's working families in 2012, let's renew our commitments to standing up for the 99 percent of us who want to win back the American Dream.

I believe that today, Dr. King would have stood in the rain, with Edward Jude -- wrapped in an American flag and sitting under a tree -- to fight for workers the same way he did decades ago, for jobs, freedom and equality.