Reclaiming the Dream from Glenn Beck

August 30, 2010

Mike Stark reports from Washington, D.C., on the "Reclaim the Dream" march that challenged Glenn Beck's right-wing rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

SOME 10,000 people gathered outside historic Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. on August 28 for the "Reclaim the Dream" march commemorating the 47th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I have a Dream Speech."

In addition to honoring King's legacy, the "Reclaim the Dream" march served as an important counterpoint to the disturbing mass rally called on the same day by right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck. Beck's followers assembled at the Lincoln Memorial--the very location where King gave his vision of equality and hope.

The insult of that was felt acutely by participants in the "Reclaim the Dream" march. "There are those who continue to work to take away the rights we've won," said Darrell Graham of the People's Organization for Progress. "We need to understand we live in a system that is devised to keep people apart. There are those who seek to stir people up in a negative context. This isn't about Black or white--this is about working to ensure equality and economic justice for everyone."

Members of the Teamsters National Black Caucus led a spirited contingent at the Reclaim the Dream march
Members of the Teamsters National Black Caucus led a spirited contingent at the Reclaim the Dream march (Mike Stark | SW)

Several union contingents were present at the Reclaim the Dream event, including Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, which organizes service and building workers in D.C. and elsewhere. When asked why her fellow union members came out, Local 32BJ Vice President Valarie Long said: "Today's march struck a chord with our workers. King's dream is about hope and community, and we need to reclaim that legacy."

Also attending were more than 700 members of the Teamsters National Black Caucus, which led a spirited contingent. "We are here to say that freedom has no color," said Albert Mixon, a Teamster official and leader of the Black Caucus. "We brought Teamsters from across the country, some as far away as Alaska, to stand for jobs and equality." Mixon shouted to the group: "Who are we?"--and they roared back: "Teamsters!"

ON THE stage, there were repeated calls for both civil rights and economic justice. "We say no to the achievement gap," Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, declared. "We say no to the education gap. We say no to having more Black men in prison than in college. We say yes to teachers who are well-paid. Yes to economic justice for all. We want jobs with a living wage and good benefits for all!"

Morial's speech was in stark contrast to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was allowed to speak to a rally commemorating a civil rights icon and had the gall to lecture the crowd: "Parents: Turn off the television. Teachers: Stop making excuses."

The same contrast was clear when D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who oversaw the firing of hundreds of D.C. school teachers and is lagging in his bid for reelection, took the stage--he was booed by large sections of the crowd.

Unfortunately, most of the speakers seemed hesitant to take on Beck's Tea Party sharply--or to directly criticize the Obama administration for its failure to live up to the promise it seemed to represent in 2008 of addressing the needs of minority communities and working people.

NAACP President Ben Jealous reminded the crowd of the hope and unity they felt at seeing the election of the nation's first Black president and called on rally participants to press ahead and mobilize for the October 2nd "One Nation" rally in Washington, initiated by the NAACP and the AFL-CIO, and backed by dozens of progressive organizations. "On October 2nd," Jealous said, "it will be our turn. We will make sure when they turn on the TV, people will see a country they recognize."

The Reclaim the Dream rally was called by Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network. Sharpton has been a staunch defender of the Obama administration against any liberal criticism. Last winter, Sharpton went so far as to brag that it was a good thing that the Obama administration didn't have a "Black agenda"--and he attacked talk show host Tavis Smiley when Smiley took exception.

Nevertheless, Sharpton's concluding speech at the rally clearly showed the challenges facing Black America and the need for activism. "Just because we got through the storm doesn't mean we've arrived," Sharpton said. "We are still doubly unemployed, Black to white--we're not there yet. We are still four grades behind in reading and mathematics--we're not there yet. We're still the last hired and first fired--we're not there yet."

"When we leave here today, we're leaving like they did 47 years ago," Sharpton continued. "We're leaving to say we must have a jobs bill that will close the gap. And those who will not vote for us, we will not vote for them. This is not about a one-day thing. We need to show up."

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