On the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., social justice and labor advocates gathered in dozens of cities around the country Tuesday to show a united front. Both groups vowed to fight racism and continue to work in favor of better wages for all workers.
In cities like Boston, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Memphis, Tenn., workers protested and vowed to build on King’s legacy of advocating for workers’ rights.
“Today, underpaid workers across the country carry forward Dr. King’s legacy of fighting for an America where all work is valued and all people are respected,” said Service Employees International Union International President Mary Kay Henry in a statement. “Our movements for working people and civil rights have been linked since they began. Today we vow to continue organizing to make the voices of working families and our communities heard in an economy and democracy where the rules have been rigged to favor corporations over people.”
The protests come as conservative-leaning state legislators have introduced laws that would crack down on protestors from the Movement for Black Lives and the Fight for $15 movement. Recently, a Memphis-based Fight for $15 organization filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city accusing the Memphis Police Department of illegal surveillance and intimidation to quell protests.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District by the Mid-South Organizing Committee, alleged that since December 2014 the MPD violated the constitutional rights of free expression and association by targeting the local Fight for $15 chapter because of their message and of their race. The MPD is accused of “selectively enforcing the city’s permit requirements against the Fight for $15; regularly following organizers and activists in squad cars and sometimes parking outside of their homes to intimidate them; spreading disparaging information about the Fight for $15 to schools and community members, sometimes using racially coded and offensive language; threatening and intimidating Fight for $15 activists and organizers with arrests for engaging in free speech; and including Fight for $15 organizers on a black list that prevents them from entering City Hall without an armed police escort.”
“Black and Brown workers—especially women—have been held back by poverty wages and racism for far too long,” stated Genevieve Sneed, a home care worker from Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday. “After 30 years as a home care worker, I only make $9 an hour. Dr. King came to Memphis to march with Black sanitation workers fighting for better pay and union rights—a fight that we continue today. It’s time to break down the barriers to the economic and racial justice Dr. King fought for.”
The march in Memphis ended at the Lorraine Motel, where King was shot and killed April 4, 1968. At the time, King was in town to support Black sanitation workers who were on strike.
“The best way to honor Dr. King’s memory is for us to commit ourselves to his unfinished dream of an America where all working people, regardless of color or background, can earn a decent wage and have a decent life,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, founder of the social justice organization Repairers of the Breach, in a statement. “Dr. King believed that if the labor movement and those of us fighting for racial justice joined together, we could be the ‘architects of democracy’ and fulfill America’s unmet promise of equality.”