On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Among those gathered were those bearing signs as a testament that his dream includes equality for LGBTQ people, Latinos, Asian Americans, women, the poor and persons with disabilities. On Wednesday, President Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous address.
The spirit of the day was reflective, but not complacent. Many speakers recognized the heroic efforts of those who have advanced the civil rights movement to where it is today, but were clear that there is still much work to be done. “Eric Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, said he would not be in office, nor would Barack Obama be president, without those who marched.” While Martin Luther King, III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader reminded those gathered, “this is not the time for nostalgic commemoration, nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”
In June, just prior to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court victories for the LGBTQ community in United States v. Windsor (DOMA) and Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8), a central part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the court, effectively allowing states to implement discriminatory voting laws unchecked. At the time, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow wrote an editorial about the importance of joining together in justice: “Racial hostility, homophobia and misogyny are braided together like strands of the same rope. When we fight one, we fight them all.”
We must become a “majority minority country,” he wrote.
Eric Holder’s speech at Saturday’s National Action to Realize the Dream extended Dr. King’s dream in a way that helps build a “majority minority country.” Here is that speech in part (watch in full below):
Fifty years ago, Dr. King shared his dream with the world and described his vision for a society that offered, and delivered, the promise of equal justice under law. He assured his fellow citizens that this goal was within reach – so long as they kept faith with one another, and maintained the courage and commitment to work toward it. And he urged them to do just that. By calling for no more – and no less – than equal justice. By standing up for the civil rights to which everyone is entitled. And by speaking out – in the face of hatred and violence, in defiance of those who sought to turn them back with fire hoses, bullets, and bombs – for the dignity of a promise kept; the honor of a right redeemed; and the pursuit of a sacred truth that’s been woven through our history since this country’s earliest days: that all are created equal.
Those who marched on Washington in 1963 had taken a long and difficult road – from Montgomery, to Greensboro, to Birmingham; through Selma and Tuscaloosa. They marched – in spite of animosity, oppression, and brutality – because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept. Their focus, at that time, was the sacred and sadly unmet commitments of the American system as it applied to African Americans. As we gather today, 50 years later, their march – now our march – goes on.
And our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this country who still yearn for equality, opportunity, and fair treatment.
Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the NAACP, wrote a guest post for the Human Rights Campaign to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. His post called for a similar expansion of the justice the civil rights movement is fighting for :
We are returning amidst a newly reinvigorated fight for civil rights that has grown rapidly to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
After all, LGBT rights are civil rights.
No parallel between movements is exact. But like race, our sexuality and gender identity aren’t preferences. They are immutable, unchangeable – and the constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.
Today, we are fighting for jobs, for economic opportunity, for a level playing field free of inequality and of discrimination. It’s the same fight our LGBT brothers and sisters are waging – and together we have formed a national constituency for civil rights.
At More Light Presbyterians, we have long recognized that we cannot achieve denominational or cultural change for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people alone, nor should we, for we are one in the body of Christ. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous adage, a threat to a member anywhere is a threat to the body of Christ everywhere. We marched this weekend, not just because LGBTQ people were more publicly included in the call for justice, but because Christ’s body is not whole if many of its members are facing deportation, denied education, unfairly imprisoned, underpaid, or seen as anything less than a child of God. For the 100th anniversary of the March on Washington, our prayer is that we will gather in great celebration of a just world for everyone.