Tens of thousands of people gathered in the nation’s capital on Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, originally held on August 28, 1963. People filled the National Mall as speakers reflected on the progress in achieving the goals outlined by the event’s most famous speaker, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We spend the hour featuring highlights from Saturday’s event, with voices including 13-term Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the 1963 march; Rev. Jesse Jackson; Rev. Al Sharpton; Julian Bond, former chair of the board of the NAACP and one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; the AFL-CIO’s Arlene Holt Baker; professor and author Michael Eric Dyson; and Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams. “This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration, nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration,” King’s son, Martin Luther King III, told the crowd. “The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more. Paramount to Martin Luther King Jr.’s fervent dream was a commitment that African Americans gain full economic opportunity and not be confined to basic mobility from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. Today, with 12 percent unemployment rates in the African-American community and 38 percent of all children of color in this country living below the level of poverty, we know that the dream is far from being realized.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Amy Goodman: Tens of thousands of people gathered in the nation’s capital Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, originally held August 28th, 1963. They filled the National Mall as speakers reflected on their progress in achieving the goals outlined by the event’s most famous speaker, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
Amy Goodman: Saturday’s commemorative march a half-century after Dr. King spoke was still largely about unrealized dreams. Travyon Martin was on many minds on the eve of the march. The unarmed black teen’s killer, George Zimmerman, visited a Florida weapons factory that makes the same gun he used to shoot Martin dead last year. Zimmerman posed for a photo with the factory owner and reportedly inquired about the legality of purchasing Kel-Tec KSG, a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. Zimmerman used a Kel-Tec pistol to shoot Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted for Trayvon’s death last month. In a statement, a spokesperson for Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O’Mara said, quote, “We certainly would not have advised him to go to the factory that made the gun that he used to shoot Trayvon Martin through the heart,” unquote.
Writing about Saturday’s march, The Nation columnist Dave Zirin said, quote, “The number-one face on T-shirts, placards and even homemade drawings was not President Obama or even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was Travyon Martin.” Zirin also said he saw D.C. park police seize hundreds of posters that read “Stop Mass Incarceration. Stop the new Jim Crow” from activists who were distributing them for free.
Well, today we spend the hour featuring voices from Saturday’s march, beginning with some of the veteran civil rights leaders who spoke: Reverend Jesse Jackson; Julian Bond, the former chair of the board of the NAACP and one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a state legislator in Georgia for more than two decades. But first, this is 13-term Georgia Congressmember John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.
Rep. John Lewis: Fifty years ago—50 years ago, I stood right here in this spot, 23 years old, had all of my hair and a few pounds lighter. So I come back here again to say that those days for the most part are gone, but we have another fight. We must stand up and fight the good fight as we march today, for there are forces, there are people who want to take us back. We cannot go back. We’ve come too far. We want to go forward.
Back in 1963, hundreds and thousands and millions of our brothers and sisters could not register to vote. When I stood here 50 years ago, I said, “‘One man, one vote’ is the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours.” I also said some people tell us to wait, tell us to be patient. I say, 50 years later, we cannot wait. We cannot be patient. We want jobs, and we want our freedom now. All of us. It doesn’t matter whether we’re black or white, Latino, Asian American or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether we’re straight or gay. We are one people. We are one family. We are one house. We all live in the same house. So I say to you, my brothers and sisters, we cannot give up. We cannot give out. We cannot give in. We must get out there and push and pull.
Now I, a few short years ago, or almost 48 years ago—well, 40 years ago, or almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.
Announcer: Another civil rights icon, president, founder of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
Rev Jesse Jackson: Today we appeal upon the president and the Congress to have mercy upon our plea. Fresh from jail in North and South Carolina, I was blessed to be here 50 years ago. Thank God for the journey, 50 years of tragedy and triumph. The stench of Medgar Evers’ blood in the air, we marched as Dr. King dreamed in ’63. I was with him and a band of SCLC warriors as he felt the agony of the nightmare approaching in 1968 in Memphis. He said the pendulum swung between hope and hopelessness. He celebrated the joy of our progress, the freedom from barbarism, and the right to vote.
He would celebrate the joy of our political progress: the return of President Aristide to Haiti, the freedom of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and the election of President Barack Obama—the crown jewel of our work. He would have felt acutely the pain of stagnation, retrogression, unnecessary wars, drones, and the neglect of the poor, for there is too much poverty and hate and war. He was tormented by poverty, and using war and violence as remedies was unacceptable.
His mission was to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, determined to remain permanently maladjusted ’til all of God’s children have the meal for their bodies and education for their minds and the health for their infirmities. Today he would be disturbed. Banks bailed out, homeowners locked out, insurance companies bailed out, Detroit and Birmingham bankrupted, we’re still paying an awful price for the misadventure into Iraq. He said too much war, too few jobs, too little social uplift leads to moral and spiritual bankruptcy. When he was killed, his popularity ratings went out, but his values and standards went up. He said, “Reject me, if you will, those who once embraced me, but I will be speak and will be heard.”
And so, keep dreaming of the constitutional right to vote. Stop the madness in North Carolina and Texas. Keep dreaming. Keep dreaming. Revive the war on poverty. Keep dreaming, to go from stop-and-frisk to stop-and-employ, stop-and-educate, stop-and-house, stop-and-choose-schools-over-jails. Keep dreaming. Keep dreaming student loan debt forgiveness as a stimulus. Keep dreaming. Revive the U.S. Civil Rights Commission with the conscience of our nation. Keep dreaming. Restore foreclosed housing. Keep dreaming comprehensive immigration reform that includes Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean. Keep dreaming. Fifty years later, we are free but not equal. Keep dreaming. Choose life over death, futures over funerals, and more graduations and less funerals. And so, keep the faith. And through it all, keep hope alive.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, Julian Bond.
Julian Bond: I’m delighted to be here, just as I was delighted to be here 50 years ago. Then, we could not have imagined we’d be here 50 years later with a black president and a black attorney general. But that’s a measure of how far we have come.
But still we march. We march because Trayvon Martin has joined Emmett Till in the pantheon of young black martyrs. We march because the United States Supreme Court has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, for which we fought and died. We march because every economic indicator shows gaping white-black disparities. We march for freedom from white supremacy. But still we have work to do. None of it is easy, but we have never wished our way to freedom; instead, we have always worked our way. Today we have much more to work with, and we take heart that so much has changed.
The changes that have come have everything to do with the work of the modern movement for civil rights. We must not forget that Dr. King stood before and with thousands, the people who made the mighty movement what it was. From Jamestown’s slave pens to Montgomery’s boycotted buses, these ordinary men and women labored in obscurity. And from Montgomery forward, they provided the foot soldiers of the freedom army. They shared with King an abiding faith in America. They walked in dignity rather than ride in shame. They faced bombs in Birmingham and mobs in Mississippi. They sat down at lunch counters so others could stand up. They marched, and they organized. Remember, Dr. King didn’t march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. He didn’t speak to an empty field at the March on Washington. There were thousands marching with him and before him, and thousands more who did the dirty work that preceded the triumphal march. The successful strategies of the modern movement were litigation, organization, mobilization and coalition—all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights.
Amy Goodman: That was civil rights veteran Julian Bond. People booed when his mic was cut off in mid-sentence, as organizers kept many speakers to a strict two-minute limit. Before Bond, we heard from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and before that, Georgia Congressmember John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. When we come back, we’ll hear more voices, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s son, Martin Luther King III. Stay with us.
Amy Goodman: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you highlights from Saturday’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which commemorated the original march 50 years ago this week. President Obama is set to speak at another rally on the National Mall this Wednesday, the actual anniversary of the August 28, 1963, march. We return now to Saturday’s event to hear from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Dr. Martin Luther King’s son, Martin Luther King III, but first, one of the event’s main organizers, Reverend Al Sharpton.
Rev. Al Sharpton: Fifty years ago, they did not take a bus outing to come to Washington. There will be those that will miscast this as some great social event. But let us remember, 50 years ago, some came to Washington having rode the back of buses. Some came to Washington that couldn’t stop and buy a cup of coffee ’til they got across the Mason-Dixon line. Some came to Washington sleeping in their cars because they couldn’t rent a motel room. Some came to Washington never having had the privilege to vote. Some came having seen their friends shed blood. But they came to Washington so we could come today in a different time and a different place, and we owe them for what we have today.
I met a man not long ago—I tell it often. He says, “I’m African American, but I don’t understand all this civil rights marching you’re talking about, Reverend Al. I have accomplished. I have achieved. Look at my résumé. I went to the best schools. I’m a member of the right clubs. I have the right people. Read my résumé. Civil rights didn’t write my résumé.” I looked at his résumé. I said, “You’re right. Civil rights didn’t write your résumé, but civil rights made somebody read your résumé.” Don’t act like whatever you achieved, you achieved because you were that smart. You got there because some unlettered grandmas, who never saw a inside of a college campus, put their bodies on the line in Alabama and Mississippi and sponsored you up here.
Today we face continuing challenges. What do we want? We want the Congress to rewrite a Voting Rights Act, and we want to protect our right to vote. They are changing laws all over this country. The Congress needs to make federal law that will get through this Congress and deal with what the Supreme Court has done. Right now in Texas and North Carolina and other places, they’re coming with all these schemes—voter ID. Well, we always had ID. Why do we need new ID now? We had ID when we voted for Johnson. We had ID when we voted for Nixon. We had ID when we voted for those that succeeded him—Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush again. Why, when we get to Obama, do we need some special ID?
But I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. When we leave Washington—we’re getting ready to march—we’re going to go to those states. We’re on our way to North Carolina. We’re on our way to Texas. We’re on our way to Florida. And when they ask us for our voter ID, take out a photo of Medgar Evers. Take out a photo of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. Take out a photo of Viola Liuzzo. They gave their lives so we could vote. Look at this photo. It gives you the ID of who we are.
Second, we need jobs. We didn’t come here to just talk. We want voter legislation. We need jobs. And if we can’t get jobs, we need to continue these marches. And if we get tired, we need to sit down in the offices of some of those here that don’t understand folk want to work and earn for their families.
Fifty years ago, Dr. King said that America gave blacks a check that bounced in the bank of justice and was returned marked “insufficient funds.” Well, we’ve redeposited the check. But guess what? It bounced again. But when we look at the reason this time, it was marked “stop payment.” They had the money to bail out banks. They had the money to bail out major corporations. They have the money to give tax benefits to the rich. They have the money for the 1 percent. But when it comes to Head Start, when it comes to municipal workers, when it comes to our teachers, they stop the check. We’re going to make you make the check good, or we’re going to close down the bank.
Amy Goodman: Attorney General Eric Holder.
Attorney General Eric Holder: It is an honor for me to be here today among so many friends, distinguished civil rights leaders, members of Congress, and fellow citizens who fought, rallied and organized from the streets of this nation to the halls of our Capitol to advance the cause of justice.
Fifty years ago, Dr. King shared his dream with the world and described visions for a society that offered—and delivered—the promise of equal justice under law. He assured his fellow citizens that his goals was within reach, so long as they kept faith with one another and maintained the courage and the 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, 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 the history of our nation’s country that all are created equal.
Now, 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 is now our march, and it must go 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 great country who still yearn for equality, opportunity and fair treatment.
Dr. King’s indelible words helped to alter the course of history, and his work provided the foundation for much of the progress that has followed. But this morning, as we recommit ourselves to his quest for progress, we must note that in addition to Dr. King we also stand on the shoulders of untold millions whose names may be lost to history, but whose stories and whose contributions must be remembered and must be treasured—surely those who stood on the Mall in the summer of 1963, but we also must remember those who rode buses; who sat at lunch counters; who stood up to racist governments and governors; and, tragically, those who gave their lives. We must remember generations who carried themselves on a day-to-day basis with great dignity in the face of unspeakable injustice, sacrificing their own ambitions so that the opportunities of future generations would be assured. But for them, I would not be attorney general of the United States, and Barack Obama would not be president of the United States of America. We must remember those who labored for wages that measured neither their worth nor their effort. We must remember those who served and fought and died wearing the uniform of a nation that they cared so much about but which did not reciprocate that devotion in equal measure. Each of these brave men and women displayed a profound love of country that must always be appreciated. It is to these people that we owe the greatest debt—Americans of all races, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations and backgrounds who risked everything in order that their fellow citizens and their children might truly be free.
Amy Goodman: Martin Luther King’s son, Martin Luther King III.
Martin Luther King III: Five decades ago, my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood upon this hallowed spot, and the spirit of God spoke through him and summoned a nation to repent and to redress the shameful sins long visited upon its African-American brothers and sisters. Fifty years ago, he delivered a sermon on this mountain, which crystallized like never before the painful pilgrimage and aching aspirations of African Americans yearning to breathe free in our own homeland. But Martin Luther King Jr.’s utterings of 1963 were neither forlorn laments of past injustices nor a despairing diatribe of cruel conditions of the day. No, indeed, his words are etched in eternity and echo through the ages to us today, were a tribute to the tenacity of an intrepid people who, though oppressed, refused to remain in bondage. Those words of Martin Luther King Jr. were a clarion call to all people of goodwill to rise up together, to make this nation live out the true meaning of its creed and to perfect within us a more perfect union.
And so, I stand here today in this sacred place, in my father’s footsteps. I am humbled by the heavy hand of history, but more than that, I am—I, like you, continue to feel his presence. I, like you, continue to hear his voice crying out in the wilderness. The admonition is clear. This is not the time for a 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.
The vision preached by my father a half-century ago was that his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. However, sadly, the tears of Trayvon Martin’s mother and father remind us that, far too frequently, the color of one’s skin remains a license to profile, to arrest, and to even murder with no regard for the content of one’s character. Regressive “Stand Your Ground” laws must be repealed. Federal anti-profiling legislation must be enacted. Comprehensive immigration reform must be adopted to end the harassment of our brown brothers and sisters and to provide a path to citizenship for them today, just as was done for the millions who passed through Ellis Island’s splendid gate yesterday.
Fifty years ago, my father insisted that we could not rest and be satisfied as long as black folk in Mississippi could not vote and those in New York believed that they had nothing for which to vote. Today, the United States Supreme Court, having recently eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, and with numerous states clamoring to legislatively codify voting suppression measures, not only must we not be satisfied, but we must fight back boldly. Too many of our unknown heroes and sheroes fought, bled and died for us to have the precious right to vote for us to now sit back and timidly allow our franchise to be taken away or diminished. We must not rest until the Congress of the United States restores the Voting Rights Act’s protections discarded by a Supreme Court blind to the blatant theft of the black vote.
Paramount to Martin Luther King Jr.’s fervent dream was the commitment that African Americans gain full economic opportunity and not be confined to basic mobility from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. Today, with 12 percent unemployment rates in the African-American community and 38 percent of all children of color in this country living below the level of poverty, we know that the dream is far from being realized. With the once-mighty city of Detroit in the throes of bankruptcy and countless other cities teetering on the brink, there is a fierce urgency to act now.
Amy Goodman: Martin Luther King’s son, Martin Luther King III, addressing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom this Saturday. Before him, you heard Attorney General Eric Holder and the Reverend Al Sharpton. When we come back, we’ll hear from Gandhi’s grandson, as well as the AFL-CIO’s Arlene Holt Baker, Medgar Evers’ widow Myrlie Evers-Williams, and more. Stay with us.
Amy Goodman: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you highlights from Saturday’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which commemorated the original march 50 years ago this week, August 28th, 1963, as we return to the event with Democratic Congressmember Nancy Pelosi of California, the first woman to be speaker of the House.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Fifty years ago, we had the first Catholic president in the White House. Today, we have the first African-American president and the first African-American first family leading our country so beautifully from the White House. You know, we come together here at a time when there is a monument to Reverend Martin Luther King on the Mall. Here he sits with presidents of the United States, so appropriately. We have a day set aside as a national holiday to celebrate his birthday. But he would want us to celebrate him, his birth and his legacy by acting upon his agenda.
Announcer: Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi.
Rajmohan Gandhi: Gandhi, my grandfather, never visited the United States, but his heart was fully involved in the struggle in this country. In February 1936, after meeting four African Americans in a hut in western India, this is what Gandhi said: “Well, if it comes true, it may be through the African Americans that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.”
In 1967, four years after the 1963 march, Dr. King said this in New York City: “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole.” Dr. King added a warning against what he called “the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.” Today, as we underline America’s enormous needs, Dr. King’s phrase, “overriding loyalty to humankind,” also demands our attention, yet conformist thought stops us from trying to assist. We must ask: Do we want democracy here, but only dependable friends elsewhere?
Announcer: Representing the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO, the executive vice president, Arlene Holt Baker.
Arlene Holt Baker: Fifty years ago, a 23-year-old man by the name of John Lewis asked a question. He asked, “Where is equality for the maid who earned five dollars a week in the home of a family whose income was $100,000 a year? Where is equality for those of us who work in the Southern fields from sunup to sundown for $12 a week?” We are asking that same question today, when the minimum wage is actually lower than it was half a century ago.
Fifty years ago, A. Philip Randolph stood with Brother Lewis and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and 250,000 men and women from across America to demand jobs and freedom. Unemployment then among African Americans was 10 percent. It’s about 13 percent today. Our demands today are the same as they were 50 years ago: We need jobs for all Americans, and we need our freedoms.
We need the freedom to have a voice at work, and we need the freedom to have our voices heard at our ballot boxes. Too many of our children, who dream of a quality education, but who stir in terribly overcrowded classrooms while urban school districts close school after school after school. Our call for a higher minimum wage has become a desperate scream and a cry for our communities, because we cannot feed and clothe our families on $7.25 an hour. We cannot simply stand on this Mall at the Lincoln Memorial. We must take organize. We must take action for job creation and shared prosperity for all.
Announcer: Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.
Michael Eric Dyson: Fifty years ago, our greatest American dreamed eloquently about justice and democracy. Fifty years later, we need a team effort to make his dream come true.
He had a dream; we need a team, to join the vast army of the poor who continue to languish in the corners of our society and struggle against impossible odds to survive.
He had a dream; we need a team, to join the sea of immigrants who love America so much they’re willing to risk life and limb to make this nation a better place.
He had a dream; we need a team, to join our gay brothers and lesbian sisters as they come out of the closet and enjoy the living room of social freedom and the bedroom of marriage equality.
He had a dream; we need at team, to join the multitude of women whose bodies are burdened by antiquated science and out-of-step politicians.
He had a dream; we need a team, to join the youth whose sweet lives are cut short by senseless violence on the streets of our cities.
He had a dream; we need a team, joined by the nation’s first black attorney general, who has spoken out and acted against the profound injustices of our country’s legal system and the vicious attack on our right to vote.
He had a dream; we need a team, joined by the nation’s first black president, who must use his bully pulpit to remind America of the commitment to racial justice, since we know that the death of the first Martin, King, is linked to the death of the second Martin, Trayvon, because they were both unjustly profiled by an intolerant slice of our population.
When we do this, we will be able to sing together the words of that great anthem from the last century: “The sun don’t shine forever, but as long as it’s here we might as well shine together. Better now than never, business before pleasure.” He had a dream; we need a team.
Announcer: Please welcome, Ms. Myrlie Evers-Williams.
Myrlie Evers-Williams: I think of one theme that has been played over and over in the past few months, and it’s one that brings great controversy: “stand your ground.” And we can think of standing your ground in the negative, but I ask you today to flip that coin and make “stand your ground” a positive ring for all of us who believe in freedom and justice and equality, that we stand firm on the ground that we have already made and be sure that nothing is taken away from us, because there are efforts to turn back the clock of freedom. And I ask you today, will you allow that to happen?
Myrlie Evers-Williams: Take the words “stand your ground” in a positive sense. Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality. We’ve had wonderful speakers here, and we’ll have even more, who will outline those things to you, but I think you know what I mean. Take a negative and make a positive out of it. Assess where we are today, assess where we have come from, assess where we can go, standing our ground for justice, for freedom, for our equality.
And I stand here today and I ask the question: Ain’t I a woman? Where are the women that need to be acknowledged in this movement for freedom and justice? We must not forget them. We must not forget Coretta Scott King. We must not forget Betty Shabazz. We must not forget all of the other women who poured in the sweat and the tears to move us further.
So, if you do nothing else, if you take nothing else from my heart and what I have said, stand your ground for freedom and justice, and do whatever is necessary—that’s legal—to move this country forward.
Announcer: Mayor Cory Booker.
Mayor Cory Booker: The dream still demands that the moral conscience of our country still calls us, that hope still needs heroes. We need to understand that there is still work to do. When the leading cause of death for black men my age and younger is gun violence, we still have work to do. When we still have a justice system that treats the economically disadvantaged and minorities different than others, we still have work to do. When you can in America work a full-time job plus overtime and still be below the stifling line of poverty, we still have work to do. When we see wages stagnating, when child poverty is increasing, when the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, when millions of our children are living in neighborhoods where their soil is toxic and their rivers are polluted and their air quality is so poor that asthma is epidemic, we still have work to do.
And so, my generation, we can’t sit back now thinking democracy is a spectator sport, when all we can do is watch our TV screens and cheer for our side. Democracy demands action. We can’t sit back and get caught up in a state of sedentary agitation, where we get so upset about the world going on, but we don’t get up and do something about it. We cannot allow ourselves to let our inability to do everything undermine our determination to do something. And so now I call upon my generation to understand that we can never pay back the struggles and the sacrifices of the generation before, but it is our moral obligation to pay it forward.
And so now we must stand, like King stood, like thousands of others stood, like Ella Baker stood, like [Goodman] and Chaney and Schwerner stood, like the Freedom Riders stood. We must stand now. We must stand until we live in a nation where it doesn’t matter who you love, but we don’t have second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We must stand now, until we become a nation where a woman working the same job as a man gets the same pay. We must stand! We must stand for a country where 20 percent of our children are not shackled by the chains of poverty. We must stand today. We must stand in my generation. We must stand for equality. We must stand for justice. We must stand, like those stood before us, because we still live in a country where anything is possible, but, as King said, change will not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. So we must straighten our backs, stand together and join together until indeed our nation becomes one, where the call of a conscience of children coast to coast—where they say that profound pledge, when we make those words not aspirational but true in our land, that America is a country, truly, for all of his children, her children, that we are truly a nation with liberty and justice for all.
Announcer: Professor Jeffrey Sachs.
Jeffrey Sachs: If the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, it is because righteous souls in each generation pulled that arc towards its hallowed end. Fifty years ago at this spot, King spoke to righteous men and women who braved police dogs and water cannon to fulfill their role in shaping the moral universe. They did their job bravely and well, and we honor them today. Yet the great task of moral construction is never finished. There is no final victory on Earth, only an inheritance of justice that each generation must renew and pass to the next.
1963 was a year of moral crisis and renewal. It was a year to rescue America’s soul and to move the world, as John F. Kennedy did with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It was a year of martyrdom of that young president, who told us that when one man is enslaved, all are not free.
2013 is another year of moral crisis. America is mired in income inequality and poverty. America enslaves multitudes of black and Hispanic young men to feed the greed of its privatized penitentiaries. America despoils the Earth by its heedless fracking and burning of fossil fuels. And America sends drone missiles that kill innocent wedding-goers in a misguided war on Islam.
It is our turn to bend the arc of the moral universe. We, too, must banish the moneylenders, not from the temple, but from the lobbies of Congress and the White House. We, too, must beat swords into plowshares, joining together with Iranians, Egyptians, Palestinians and Israelis to honor the prophets of peace. And we must end our assault on nature, leaving oil and coal in the ground, and harvesting the sun and the wind instead. In our age of greed and glitter, the work of justice often seems to be stilled, but do not be deceived, for the ancient cry still moves us today: Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live in the Promised Land.
Amy Goodman: That’s Jeffrey Sachs, Myrlie Evers and others, just some of the voices from Saturday’s event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice.
You can go to our website at democracynow.org to see a special page featuring our interviews about the 1963 march, African-American history and the struggle for jobs and freedom, from the past to the present. As the White House announces it will posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to trailblazing civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, you can check out our interview on Rustin’s life and about how he first came to Dr. King in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott to talk about Gandhi and nonviolent protest. You can watch our interview with the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger as he describes first singing “We Shall Overcome” to Dr. King. And we also feature our interview with Dr. Cornel West, who asks if Martin Luther King would be invited today to the very march in his name.