On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what would become one of the most memorable and influential speeches in history.
In his “I have a Dream” speech, Dr. King challenged America, stating that “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Dr. King’s resounding call for justice helped inspire a broad movement that led to the enactment of voting rights protections, and federal and state prohibitions against discrimination in housing and in the workplace.
Now, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s speech, we recognize that as a nation we have made incredible progress towards equality – but there is so much more to do to secure justice and fair treatment for all.
The United States has elected our first African American president – and more than 9,000 African American elected officials. But earlier this summer, a majority of the Supreme Court voted to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, threatening to undo much of the progress we have made on voting rights. Congress must set aside partisan differences and come together to ensure that all citizens can participate fully in our democracy. And in the states, we must reject voter ID requirements and other restrictive, discriminatory obstacles to voting that threaten to disenfranchise eligible minority, aged, young and disabled citizens. And it’s shameful that, in 2013, the residents of our nation’s capital cannot vote to elect their own representatives to Congress.
In 1963, Dr. King decried the fact that many people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial were not able to “gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.” Today, we have successfully ended that form of legal segregation, but immigrants now struggle for access to public benefits and inclusion in the American Dream. We are, as then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote in a 1958 monograph for the Anti-Defamation League, a Nation of Immigrants. We must reject the demonization of immigrants and extreme, restrictive anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim legislative initiatives. This is a watershed moment for our nation to fix its broken immigration system. We must urge the House of Representatives to follow the example of the Senate by approving an immigration reform bill that rejects the failed enforcement-only approach and provides a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already contributing to our society.
Fifty years ago, Dr. King yearned for a day when people “would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We have ended the false notion of “separate but equal” segregated schools, but now we must do more to promote educational equity – and to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by ending harsh school discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities.
Yes, we have made huge strides toward equality for all, and we should be heartened by the enactment and implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, by the FBI’s recent decision to specifically track hate crimes against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus, and by the Administration’s extraordinary attention to bullying prevention initiatives. But, at a time when FBI reports document that hate crimes occur at a rate of nearly one every hour of every day – and bullying and cyberbullying still scar children targeted for the way they look – we can and must do more.
The March on Washington brought to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness the need to secure equal rights for all. Fifty years later, we are much closer to reaching equality for members of the LGBT communities, but it is clearly part of our nation’s unfinished business today. There are far too many states where not only is marriage equality still a dream, but it remains legal to fire employees solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Congress must act to end this workplace discrimination by enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
As we mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, we can all celebrate how far our country has come. But we know that racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry are still out there, and there is much work still to be done. On the occasion of this anniversary, it is appropriate for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the hard work necessary to fulfill Dr. King’s dreams.