Democratic lawmakers used the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary to call on Congress to act on a host of stalled priorities Wednesday — tempering a celebration on the National Mall of the nation’s progress since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with areas where the “dream” has fallen short.
Each said significant progress has been made since the summer of 1963, where civil rights activists were threatened and subjected to brutality while working to desegregate buses, lunch counters and voting booths throughout the South. But there were no shortages of calls for Congress to act and laments about the state of the nation’s politics.
President Barack Obama used the moment to rally support for his economic agenda. And Democratic lawmakers noted the rates of incarceration of African-Americans, New York City’s stop-and-frisk policies, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the Supreme Court’s overturning of a key section of the Voting Rights Act, among other issues.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke at the event about the need to continue fighting for justice, speaking in broad terms.
“It’s a new day 50 years later and a better day, but the day is not over. Today’s struggle for civil rights, social justice, and economic opportunity demand our engagement and our voice,” said Edwards. “We must lift our voices for wages that enable families to take care of themselves, for a health care system that erases disparities, for communities and homes without violence, for clean air and water to protect our environment for future generations, and for a just justice system. We must lift our voice for the value of our vote and have our votes counted without interference.”
CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, challenged Congress to tackle jobs, hunger and criminal justice disparities: “Now it is up to us, the Congress of the United States of America, to work together to pass a jobs bill that ensures decent jobs for all of our citizens. Now it is up to us to ensure that we have a criminal justice system that does not value one life more than another. Now it is up to us to make sure that no child goes hungry to school or to bed.”
Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., D-N.J., another member of the CBC, said recent events serve as stark reminders that there is more work to do. “From the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and newly passed state voting requirements, to the Trayvon Martin tragedy and stop-and-frisk, it is clear that the struggle continues,“ he said in a statement.
And Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is eyeing a presidential bid in 2016, told the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial that there are “still too many lives in America taken from us by violence, still too many children in America who go to bed hungry, who go to school hungry. Still too much apathy when the lives of people of color are too often valued less than the lives of white people.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.