WASHINGTON – The equal-rights vision of Martin Luther King Jr. shared center stage Saturday at the 50th Anniversary March on Washington with the racially charged shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
There seemed to be at least as many references to Martin – by march speakers and on T-shirts, posters and lapel buttons – as to slain civil rights icon King, whose I Have a Dream Speech was the highlight of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington.
The two stood out in a crowd of largely progressive and liberal issues cited by numerous speakers on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: workers’ rights, women’s rights, gay rights and voters’ rights; disgust with the high incarceration rate among black men; concern over a lack of affordable health care available; and calls for gun control, increased access to education and student loans, and a path to citizenship for immigrants.
And on the grassy south side of the memorial’s Reflecting Pool, a man held a sign that stated, Disability Rights Are Important Too!
The agenda was as diverse as the crowd, in the tens of thousands. As Marlon Brando’s character in the 1954 film The Wild One replied when asked what he was rebelling against: Whadda Ya Got? (The late Brando, by the way, was at the first March on Washington.)
Is there such a thing as too much diversity? Do too many messages get lost in the mix?
The opinions of two members of United Auto Workers Local 2209, the bargaining unit at the General Motors pickup assembly plant in southwest Allen County, were, well, mixed.
The many causes are all pertinent, Roy Munguia said. We all can take each and every one of those causes and make them whole. It’s when we don’t take an interest in one of those causes (that) it will bring it all down. They’re all important.
What do they say? It’s not a masterpiece, but we’re working on it, Munguia said. It ain’t perfect, but we’re still working on it.
But the smorgasbord of issues made it kind of hard to talk to any one person about everything, Sal Torres said. Every one’s mixing (interests) in, so it’s hard to distinguish who’s who. But you’ve got to expect that with a big crowd.
Torres and Munguia were among roughly 100 members of UAW Local 2209 who rode two buses from the GM plant to Washington for the 50th anniversary march. They set up camp about 200 yards east of the Lincoln Memorial, swatting swarms of gnats that fled as the morning sunshine grew warmer.
The crowd was getting warmed up, too.
We in the house, making history, girl, Local 2209 member Pamela Ross shouted at a colleague as politically tinged prayers played from towers of amplifiers and a video screen along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall.
Beautiful occasion, beautiful, Ross said. Loving it. Isn’t it awesome?
Frequent references to Martin, shot to death in 2012 in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and whom a jury acquitted in June of murder and manslaughter charges, drew some of the loudest applause from the audience.
Martin’s death is still fresh in everybody’s minds, Local 2209 member Damikco Stockard said. It shouldn’t have been what it was. (Martin and Zimmerman) both made bad decisions.
Local 2209 members wore T-shirts bearing King’s image, the slogan Realize the Dream and their union’s logo. They posed for photos with UAW International President Bob King, then made the march to the MLK Memorial. Because of crowd congestion, the walk was more of a stop-and-go crawl and later a leisurely stroll, with a wrong turn along the way.
Stockard was seeing the King Memorial in person for the first time.
There’s no words for it, he said. Very inspirational, very uplifting. I don’t know what to say.
Vern Trimble, chairman of the Local 2209 Civil and Human Rights Committee and an organizer of the trek and 24-hour stay in Washington, appeared equally moved during a repeat visit to the memorial.
There are a lot of people who still have major concerns about what is really going on in this country, he said. They come out here, and it’s been very peaceful, people are laughing and talking, seeing people they haven’t seen for years. They’re talking about what’s going on in the country.
Standing here at the foot of the Martin Luther King Memorial? Now that I get an opportunity to soak it in? It’s a beautiful day, Trimble said. Personally, this is what I’m supposed to do. The mission is accomplished for me today. The mission is not over.
Several hours earlier, Local 2209 member Howard Weeks talked about his own mission as the group arrived at the National Mall.
I came along on this march because my grandkids and my children don’t understand what we’ve got to do to keep our way of living, Weeks said. There’s no middle class anymore, they’re trying to cut us out. And this sheds light on what we need to do in order to keep a decent middle-class way of living. We’ve got to bring people together.
As the afternoon wore on, Local 2209 member Katie Knox reflected on her day.
I’m glad to be here; I didn’t think I’d ever get to see anything like this, Knox said. It’s great to see so many people together.
After the march, Local 2209 member Kevin Murray proposed to girlfriend and union member Roxanna Lucas at a fountain outside the Federal Reserve.
I was looking for the right spot and the right time, Murray said.
He’s a very romantic and incredible man, she said. He is the perfect man for me. Not the perfect man, but perfect for me.