01/21/2014 03:25 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2014

How to Truly Honor Dr. King

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Yesterday, we paid tribute to the legacy and memory of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout the country, communities held special events, people participated in a day of service and parents took a moment to remind their children of the selfless dedication of this noble leader. We at National Action Network (NAN) commemorated the holiday with various activities including our annual King day breakfast in Washington, D.C. And it was at that breakfast that Vice President Biden spoke so candidly and eloquently when he stated: "I have to admit, I never thought we'd be fighting the fight again on voting rights." I could not have said it better myself.

This past August, we marked the 50th anniversary of the historic 'March on Washington.' During that momentous occasion, and throughout the past few years, we have been arguing the very point that the vice president zeroed in on yesterday. We simply cannot celebrate Dr. King, then turn around and watch efforts to dismantle the very things he fought and died for. Here we are recognizing such an esteemed figure and a national holiday, yet the Supreme Court recently gutted part of the Voting Rights Act itself. Here we are honoring this civil rights icon, yet a multitude of states are enacting tough new voter ID laws and eliminating early voting days. We cannot reduce Dr. King to mere observance and ceremony; we must celebrate what he changed.

In order to understand our current fight for justice, we have to absorb lessons of the past. So when NAN and I push back against photo ID measures, 'stand your ground' laws and more, we are enforcing and testing enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The very legislation that ushered in concrete progress and broke down decades of societal barriers is under renewed attack today. We cannot and shall not give lip service to Dr. King's legacy and then tarnish that very legacy. It's like someone saying they are for George Washington, but against the revolution. It just doesn't add up.

Yesterday at our NAN headquarters in New York, we stood alongside the newly-elected Mayor Bill de Blasio who campaigned heavily on a progressive agenda. It's because of our commitment to continue fighting for greater equality and social justice that we endorse an increase in the federal minimum wage. It's why we support the Simpson-Bowles plan even though we have some concerns about the bill. It's why we agree with the President's efforts to reform mandatory minimum prison sentences. It's why we support the right for workers to organize, and why we strive to protect the civil liberties of all Americans despite their color, creed, gender, religion or socio-economic background. Those are just some of the ways in which we can truly honor Dr. King.

When Vice President Biden spoke from the heart at our breakfast, many in the room were moved. Some of them had marched with Dr. King; others heard tales of beatings, lynch mobs, police dogs and fire hoses from their parents and grandparents. Many work day in and day out striving to preserve the very rights that so many, including Dr. King, devoted their lives to usher in. We are not about to watch them be dismantled. The nonviolent movement for change continues, and the challenges may appear daunting at first. But just remember that we have more at our disposal, greater access to information/technology and more allies than perhaps ever before.

Picking up the torch and pushing forward -- this shall be our agenda after King day.