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Changing goals alters the face of change itself

Amity Paye | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.

"In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of this memorial and declared that this nation should come together and embrace its greater ideals," said singer, actor, humanitarian, Harry Belafonte in a speech during Saturday's One Nation Working Together rally. "He said that we should rally together and overcome injustice and racism and that all citizens should not only have the right to vote, but that we should exercise that right and make America whole."

An excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech was also read, reinforcing the desire to emulate the influential civil rights marches. As an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 teachers, health care workers, students, environmentalists, religious officials and union members from across the nation descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., they saw this rally as a the realization of King's dream.

"I always see us in America as a puzzle, and every group of people has a piece in that puzzle. Today, this crowd represents the diversity that I believe America stands for," said Georgia Verdier, president of the Elmira/Corning branch of the NAACP.

For many people, this was their first rally. It was also the realization of their own dreams to fight for their rights and make a difference, much like those who marched with MLK in the '60s and fought for civil rights through the '70s.

"Most of us have never been here [to Washington D.C.], so just being able to participate as a young person in a march that is about something is amazing," said Brian Rowland, a city council member from Prairie View, Texas, who traveled to the march with 73 members of his NAACP branch. "People talk about these influential marches in history, but not too many people have had the experience to have actually have done it nowadays."

Rowland and the other young members of his NAACP group from various colleges in Texas planned to have discussions after the march to "talk about some of the things we are really trying to fight in terms of young people for the Texas NAACP, like higher education and health care, so that we can understand and organize further behind some of the messages we heard today."

But for seasoned rally veteran, Paul Pumphrey, this rally represented the fact that there's still a problem in America, rather than a solution. In 1968, Pumphrey said he was among the people helping Martin Luther King organize a large anti-war march on Washington, the last march King organized before his assassination. Later, in 1970, Pumphrey said he joined the Black Panther Party and was arrested various times for participating in demonstrations.

"The theme of this rally is around the issue of better education, it's around better health care, it's around more infrastructure, building a better infrastructure for the country. All these things have a price tag on it. Where is the money coming from?" asked Pumphrey. "I say this can only happen with a massive cut in the military budget. But people aren't focusing on that; they are all over the place. There needs to be a common goal, like in the past."