Labor Activists Recall Dr. King’s Murder 43 Years Later


mlkday1By Brian S. Sherman, Special to The Atlanta Progressive News

(APN) ATLANTA — More than six hundred unionists and pro-labor activists participated in the We Are One march and rally on Monday, April 04, 2011, in Atlanta.

The event was organized by leaders of the Georgia American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

The theme was commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, which occurred while he was in Memphis to give support to sanitation workers in that city.

This reporter determined the number of participants at the event by conducting several head counts.

In the spirit of the murdered civil rights leader, the We Are One event was well integrated.  According to an observational head count, 56 percent of the participants were Black, most of the remaining participants were White, and a few other races were represented as well.

Marchers assembled on the Auburn Avenue sidewalk outside the King Center in the Old Fourth Ward.  The march began at 6pm and proceeded west on the sidewalk along Auburn Ave.

The marchers turned south on Courtland Street and proceeded along Courtland to the Georgia Capitol where Courtland becomes Washington Street.

The marchers then gathered on the plaza on the west side of the Capitol building to listen to a series of rousing speeches by union leaders, civil rights veterans, and other labor supporters, elaborating the We Are One theme of the event.

Although the speeches lasted until a few minutes after 8 PM, participants were still enthused at the end as evening fell.  One hundred and eighty-seven were still listening to the last speech, according to a head count by this reporter.

There was rich symbolic content during the march and rally.  There were several contingents in shirts and other paraphernalia with distinctive colors: these included Teamsters in blue, Fulton AFSCME members in green, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People members in gold, Letter Carriers of Georgia in red, Troy Davis supporters also in blue, United Food and Commercial Workers members in yellow, stagehands in black, and Atlanta firefighters in traditional firefighter hats.

More than three-quarters of the marchers carried signs.  The two most prevalent signs were “Stop the War on Workers” supplied by the Teamsters and “We Are One / Respect Our Rights.”  Most marchers also wore “We Are One / Respect Our Rights” stickers distributed by the march’s marshals.

Participants engaged in several chants during the march, including “What’s outrageous? // (response) Welfare wages!” and “What’s disgusting? // (response) Union-busting!”

After gathering on the Capitol plaza the marchers heard an invocational talk by Reverend Timothy McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church.

He was followed by Martin Luther King, III, who gave what in effect was the keynote address.  He detailed events which had occurred in Memphis while his father was there to support sanitation workers, noting the struggle was as much for dignity and respect as it was for wages.  King III reiterated the theme of the intertwining of the civil rights and labor movements.

Arleen Holt Baker, Executive Vice-President of the national AFL-CIO, talked about the importance of unionists and their supporters getting more involved in the electoral process, including registering voters and getting out the vote.  She recalled the unity of the labor and the civil rights struggle.  Holt Baker is the first Black person elected to a national position in the AFL-CIO.

Dr. Beverly Scott, CEO of MARTA, even though her position is management not labor, gave her full support to workers, and to labor unions specifically.  Scott made the case that “transportation is a basic human right.”

Jeff Zokovich, a DeKalb County middle-school teacher, talked about the work of teachers and the importance of union membership for teachers.

Jim Daws, President of the Atlanta Firefighters Association, stressed the necessity of mutual support among workers in the public sector and workers in the private sector.  He said the financial problems of today are not caused by workers but by corporations.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) related the targeting of public sector workers by state governments such as Georgia’s, to the favoritism shown to corporations in such programs as vouchers for education.  As he has been saying at recent immigration rallies, he argues that activists at this time should organize a boycott similar to the one which has been effective in Arizona.

Edward DuBose, President of the Georgia NAACP Conference several times called “We are…”, with the response being “One!”

Dubose stressed the importance of voting, “After we rally, if we don’t vote, nothing changes!  After we march if we don’t vote nothing changes!  After we jump up and down if we don’t vote nothing changes!”

The youngest speaker by two decades was Chijioke Ebbis of Georgia Students for Public Higher Education.

After explaining how Georgia Assembly bills will make it much more difficult for low income students to attend college in Georgia, Ebbis led the participants in several repeats of a chant with his call, “How do we end the deficit? // (response) Tax the Rich!”

Other speakers included Jeremy Ponds of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), and State Reps. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Red Oak) and Brian Thomas (D-Gwinnett).  The final scheduled speaker was Georgia AFL-CIO President Richard Ray.

After the last speaker there was an appreciation of Charlie Flemming, director of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, for being a main organizer of the rally.

After the scheduled speakers concluded there were a few impromptu words from General Larry Platt.  Such unannounced appearances by Platt at the end of rallies at the Capitol are familiar to veteran activists in Atlanta.

(END / 2011)

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