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UAW President Bob King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson lead the march for 'Jobs, Justice and Peace' through downtown Detroit. Photos by Rebecca Cook.
The thousands of people who gathered in downtown Detroit on Saturday knew the significance of Aug. 28. It was the day 47 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall.
However, the diverse group of people representing labor, church, civil rights, peace and community groups did not march through city streets on a beautiful, sun-splashed day just to mark a historic event. Instead, they seek to set a new national agenda for jobs, justice and peace to move our nation back to recovery. (See video from the march.)
The way to do that, UAW President Bob King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, CEO and founder of Rainbow PUSH coalition said, is to take a page from Dr. King’s book: Get on your feet, march and let the powerbrokers know that the time for inattention to what is going wrong in America has long passed.
“If you don’t keep marching, you start losing,” Bob King said at the “Rebuild America: Jobs, Justice and Peace” March. “We will march until we win.”
A win would be a nation that grows jobs by reinvesting in its urban areas, industry, local and state governments and people. A win would be guaranteeing workers justice in the workplace so that they have good, decent-paying jobs that help grow and sustain the economy. And a win would be ending our trillion-dollar involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and shifting the wasted funds spent in those countries to more pressing needs back home. The organizers of Rebuild America spelled out its national agenda in a policy statement. The UAW will also participate with the NAACP and other allies in the "One Nation, Working Together" march on Oct. 2 in Washington, calling for jobs for all.
UAW President Bob King says the government makes moral choices when it spends taxpayer money.
We haven’t marched enough against outrageous Republican policies such as tax cuts for the ultra wealthy, blocks on the extension of help for the unemployed and the GOP’s planned destruction of Social Security, the UAW’s King said.
“How governments spend money is a moral decision,” he said. “The way Republicans want to spend money is morally bankrupt.”
The Rev. Jackson said the people of Detroit, which has one of the highest employment rates in the nation, are victimized in many ways. There are no national supermarket chains, and residents face unfair rates for home and car insurance and on loans for vehicles. Public transportation is expensive and banks are resisting a moratorium on home foreclosures on properties where they made predatory loans in the first place.
“That means those who have the least are paying the most,” Jackson said.
Still, he said, people cannot allow government inaction and Wall Street abuses break their spirit.
“The ground is no place for a champion,” Jackson said. “Stand up Detroit and show the way.”
One way is to make sure any trade agreements made by Congress actually benefit workers, said Robert McReavy, a UAW Local 412 retiree attending the rally with his wife, Judy.
“I want to know where it says in a trade agreement that America has to go bankrupt,” the former Chrysler worker said before the march kicked off.
“We’re scared we’re going to lose everything we’ve got,” his wife added.
The crowd responded with enthusiasm when asked if they would help elect working family candidates in the upcoming election.
That’s why he works the phones during elections at UAW Region 1 with his fellow retirees. There were plenty of elected officials at the rally, including Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, the Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, U.S. Reps. John Dingell, John Conyers, both D-Mich., Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
"We want to see jobs, education and health care for everyone,” Stabenow said. “Keep marching and go to the polls for jobs, justice and peace.”
Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14 in Toledo, Ohio, agreed that it’s time once again for ordinary people to lead the way. The UAW, he added, is not going to sit back and react to events because there’s too much at stake.
“We believe the American dream is not dead,” Wood said. “We’re not going to give up.”
Paul Wohlfarth, a retired UAW Local 12 member from Ottawa Lake, Mich., said corporate influence on the media and in elections is going to become worse because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited amounts of corporate cash into elections. The only way to beat that is for active and retired workers to hit the streets.
“If you throw your hands up, it’s going to get worse,” the former Jeep worker said.