You wouldn’t know it from this past weekend’s media coverage of Glenn Beck’s effort to co-opt the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the site of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, but there was a counterdemonstration that day that featured people who had marched with and worked alongside Dr. King and a message that connected directly to Dr. King’s message of economic justice.
That event was the “Rebuild America” march Saturday in Detroit. It was a smaller march than Beck’s heavily hyped “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial—after all, Beck had the advantage of a beachhead on the top-rated cable news network, a radio show, and funding from the man AlterNet’s Adele Stan calls “the Daddy Warbucks of the Tea Party movement,” billionaire businessman David Koch.
But what the Detroit march did have was a message that strikes at the core of America’s economic ills, delivered by elements of the progressive coalition that were actually at King’s side in the 1960s, such as the leaders of the United Auto Workers.
But anyone who was paying attention Saturday knew that the continuation of the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Justice”—which was called by the great socialist labor leader A. Philip Randolph and organized by another socialist, Bayard Rustin; both close allies of King, whose explicit focus on economic and social justice stood in stark contrast to Beck’s preachments—was not the slick, right-wing spin–dominated event in Washington.
It was the serious, issue-oriented march organized by the United Auto Workers union, a key supporter of the 1963 march, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a former aide to King.
Thousands marched in Detroit Saturday, after Jackson declared: “Detroit and Michigan are ground zero of the urban crisis. It’s time to enact real change for working families and all America.”
Jackson and the new activist president of the UAW, Bob King, led the march, which marks the beginning of what the union head describes as a “massive campaign that brings so many concerned citizens together in the name of peace and mobilizing forces for change.”
The No. 1 issue in the nation right now is how to make the American economy work for working people again, how to get the nation’s 23 million unemployed and underemployed people into jobs that pay a living wage and do for America the work that needs to be done to be competitive in the new economic order. It was at the Detroit march, not Beck’s march, where that issue was tackled head-on:
…They seek to set a new national agenda for jobs, justice and peace to move our nation back to recovery.
The way to do that, UAW President Bob King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, CEO and founder of Rainbow PUSH coalition said, is to take a page from Dr. King’s book: Get on your feet, march and let the powerbrokers know that the time for inattention to what is going wrong in America has long passed.
“If you don’t keep marching, you start losing,” Bob King said at the “Rebuild America: Jobs, Justice and Peace” March. “We will march until we win.”
A win would be a nation that grows jobs by reinvesting in its urban areas, industry, local and state governments and people. A win would be guaranteeing workers justice in the workplace so that they have good, decent-paying jobs that help grow and sustain the economy. And a win would be ending our trillion-dollar involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and shifting the wasted funds spent in those countries to more pressing needs back home. The organizers of Rebuild America spelled out its national agenda in a policy statement.
The organizers of the Detroit march, along with a host of other groups, intend to continue to push this message in a series of events that will culminate in the “One Nation Working Together” march in Washington on October 2.
The media outside Detroit missed an opportunity this past weekend to use the Detroit event to draw a sharp contrast between Americans who are being driven by fear into a movement that would take America morally and economically backward and working Americans anxious to see a new American economy of both prosperity and diversity. But there is still time to drive that message, and to build a movement that reflects the economic justice at the heart of King’s message.