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Hundreds Participate in D.C. Statehood Rally, Jobs March

James Wright | , WI Staff Writer | 10/15/2011, 10:09 p.m.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Martin Luther King III, were among thousands who took part in the march from the Washington Monument to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on Sat. Oct. 15

Two marches that took place on Sat., Oct. 14,one day before the official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial, focused on two issues that the slain civil rights leader made his views clear on: full political rights for District residents and jobs for all Americans.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) led the Full Democracy for D.C. Freedom Rally early Saturday and the march participants eventually joined the Jobs and Justice march led by the Rev. Al Sharpton on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Hurricane Irene forced the cancellation of the rally and march as well as the King Memorial dedication in August.

"In 1965, in a speech in Lafayette Park across from the White House, Dr. King said Congress had been 'derelict in their duties and sacred responsibility to make justice and freedom a reality for all citizens in the District of Columbia," Gray, 68, said in a speech before a throng of rally participants at Freedom Plaza in Northwest. "In the spirit of Dr. King's words, it is time for us to stand up and tell the nation, we've have paid our dues and ask the question,'when will we finally get a membership card in the United States of America."

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The rally, which was emceed by Radio One talk show host LaToya Foster, received remarks from speakers that included D.C. City Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) and members of the Council; former presidential candidate Ralph Nader; noted Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell; D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), former D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy; Dr. E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women; and D.C. Youth Co-Mayor Ryan Washington.

Loren Brown, Kwame Brown's daughter, delighted the crowd with her short speech.

"D.C. residents seek statehood," Loren, 10, said. "We do not have voting rights."

Using a quote King made famous, she said "injustice anywhere it a threat to justice everywhere."

"We have to keep up the fight no matter what."

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said that "we need statehood now, we are still not free." He suggested a march on the U.S. Capitol.

"We need to march on the Congress," Barry said. "We need to sit-in on all 535 offices."

After the rally, hundreds marched southward to the grounds of the Washington Monument for the Sharpton march. The D.C. statehood marchers who joined in from across the country, came to argue for fair and full employment for Americans, by marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial before arriving at their destination, the King Memorial.

Andrew Jackson of Detroit said that he planned to come to the King Memorial events in August but was deterred by the weather.

"I am here now and I am glad that I made the trip," Jackson, 40, said. "I think we have realized Dr. King's dream but we have work to do."

Sharpton said that jobless Americans have been disrespected by their government.

"We come here today because this country has ignored the plight of the unemployed and the chronically unemployed," Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network, said. "It is not right that you have 14 million people unemployed and one percent of the population owns 30-40 percent of all of the country's wealth."

Sharpton, who noted that conservative Republicans want to change, in a negative way, Social Security said "when you mess with Social Security, it's not about Obama, it's about my mama."

Martin Luther King III, King's oldest living child, said that redistribution of wealth was his father's priority in his last days. In speculating "that was why he was killed," King said that despite the memorial that honors his father, "we got work to do."