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Time to put on our marching shoes

President 1199Seiu United Healthcare Workers East | , George Gresham | 8/31/2011, 4:38 p.m.
George Gresham, President 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

It gives me great pride that on Aug. 28, a 30-foot statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on the 48th anniversary of our slain leader's inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech. The likeness of Dr. King will be the centerpiece of a larger memorial in his honor, and it will be the first on the National Mall to honor a non-U.S. president.

I look forward to the unveiling. But I and thousands of 1199ers also will be in Washington on Aug. 27, the day before the unveiling, to remind our nation, particularly members of Congress, why Dr. King came to Washington in 1963 and of the ideals for which he gave his life.

Those ideals have been lost and buried today in our nation's capital. On display instead is a government deliberately paralyzed by an extreme Republican House majority, which has decided to play the role of obstructionists and create an artificial crisis in order to hold our country hostage to their conservative, pro-corporate agenda.

This Republican extortion took the form last month of the extremists' irrational refusal to raise the nation's debt ceiling, although it has been raised 78 times since 1960-the majority of those times under Republican presidents.

The Republican extremists tell us that their resolve flows from their patriotism and love of country. They cite their concern that our nation is spending beyond its means, and say that we need to get our financial house in order. That translates, of course, to cuts to Social Security, Medicare, education, health care, social services, infrastructure repairs and jobs programs-in short, any spending for human needs.

What they don't mention is that the deficit problem is not of working and poor people's doing but rather that of Wall Street and the financiers who crashed our economy in 2008, extorted trillions of our taxpayers' dollars and are now swimming in profits and multimillion-dollar bonuses.

The extremists fail to mention that, for the past 30 years, virtually all of the profits from economic growth have gone to the richest 1 percent of Americans. They do not tell us that we are living through the greatest transfer of wealth in our nation's history. And they continue to insist that we should not ask even multibillionaires to pay another penny in taxes.

So the many are being forced to pay for the excesses of the few. And it is far worse for some.

Last month, the Pew Research Center released a report that found the wealth gaps between whites and people of color in the United States have grown to their widest levels since the U.S. government began tracking them a quarter-century ago. White Americans now have on average 20 times the net worth of African-Americans and 18 times that of Latinos. The report found that in 2009, fully 35 percent of African-Americans and 31 percent of Latinos had zero or negative wealth.

Dr. King spent his life fighting against such injustice, and we will be in Washington on Aug. 27 to demand that our nation and leaders heed Dr. King's call to balance the economic scales. We will raise the banner of jobs and justice. We will remind our leaders that Dr. King was a man of peace who warned that the billions-now trillions-spent on weapons of mass destruction strike targets at home. What good does it do us to feed the war machine while our citizens starve?

Join us in Washington on Aug. 27 to demand that our nation change course and take the road forged by Dr. King; the road of peace, justice and equality.