This King Day weekend we are summoned, by divine mandate and history and to breathe new life into the movement embodied in the life and by the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For hundreds of years, we have struggled to push America to live up to the fullness of her creed. Decades of struggles for equal rights, equal protection under the law and equality of opportunity have been the hallmarks of a people determined to see all live free. These struggles have been protracted and costly. The blood, sweat and tears of many of our forefathers and foremothers who paid the ultimate price for our liberty have enshrined our progress in this nation’s spirit and soul—the Constitution. Now, more so than any other time in modern history, those achievements are all under simultaneous threat of elimination.
We march because the issues of voting rights, criminal; justice reform, access to affordable health care and economic opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship are nonnegotiable. In a time when political stagnation and a conservative movement are on the march, we as a community and a nation must stand up for those values that cannot and shall not be made subject to bartering or political horse trading. Those values that define us as a free and democratic society must be preserved and indeed expanded.
Conservatives across America are emboldened and now empowered by control of all branches of the federal government to resurrect an America that we fought long and hard to dismantle. An exclusive America, an inhumane America, an America divided by race and class, by ideology and bigotry, cannot be allowed to emerge from this moment unchallenged and unchecked. Throughout our history the Black community has served as our nation’s conscience and moral compass. Our struggles, our sacrifices, our collective vision of a freer and fairer America have borne fruit, and now there are those who have come out of the shadows to strip us of these fruits and lay our social cupboards bare. Once again now is the time to stand.
Whether our foes be the proactive agenda of the right that seeks to shrink our nation’s promise or of the left that finds political expediency and the path of least resistance appealing, we march to boldly declare to friend and foe alike, on the issues of protecting our voting rights and franchise neither will the Black community be moved nor will we allow America to be moved. Voting rights were paid for and secured by blood, pain and sacrifice. Such treasures are sacred and sacrosanct and will not be further gutted or hollowed out. Quite to the contrary, on the issue of expansion of our voting rights, we shall not be moved.
As America has begun to turn the page on the issue of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, police accountability and community policing, some would bring reforms to a grinding halt and reverse our reform trajectory. Some wish to see the growth of the private prison industry and the prison industrial complex. They see the criminal justice system as a business and they view us as commodities. On criminal justice reform, we shall not be moved.
As many seek to unravel the legacy of President Barack Obama, who expanded access to affordable health care to tens of millions of Americans who had no access before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we in the Black and progressive community declare we will not allow the health and well-being of our families and neighbors and co-workers to be political collateral damage. We declare on Obamacare, we shall not be moved.
For two decades Americans have enjoyed no increases in pay and compensation, yet all across America we have been squeezed by increased costs of living and thusly have seen no real growth in our middle and working classes. Most of all new wealth is going to the top 1 percent, while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet or to live lives rich and full of opportunity. Unaffordable higher education, unattainable upward social mobility, lack of access to capital, insurance redlining and predatory lending practices have all worked to choke off many of our businesses and eliminated millions of jobs. On the issue of economic justice, access to jobs that pay living wages and access to capital that is so critical for the development of new businesses and the growth of more mature ones, training and preparation for the jobs of the future and elimination of artificial barriers to employment are paramount. And here, too, we declare that we shall not be moved.
When they ask why we march our answer is, “We shall not be moved!”
Kirsten John Foy is president of Brooklyn Chapter of the National Action Network.