Wednesday, January 18, 2006

MLK Day March and Rally Continues Legacy of Civil Rights Leader

Social justice and peace is the focus of Detroit action

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

DETROIT, Jan. 16, 2006 (PANW)--This year's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. day march and rally gathered at Central United Methodist Church under the banner of "Freedom From the Shackles of War, Racism & Poverty." 2006 represented the third consecutive year that a rally and march was organized in downtown Detroit. The event was started in 2004 by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) in order to continue the anti-war and economic justice legacy of the late civil rights leader who was killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis where he was assisting the sanitation workers in a strike aimed at recognition of their collective bargaining rights.

Since 2004, the event has grown into a Detroit MLK Committee that encompasses over 40 co-sponsors, endorsers and supporters from throughout the southeast Michigan region. At this year's opening rally, Rev. Ed Rowe, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church, delivered the invocation noting the many organizations in the event program that people could join and do volunteer work.

"This march has to be a march of our lives not a march of our mouths." "If you are going to follow Dr. Martin Luther King you are going to break the silence on racism and the apathy of a nation, my God where is the rage," Rev. Rowe said. "If you are going to follow Dr. Martin Luther King you must break the silence of apathy. Remember the Riverside Church speech of Dr. King in New York: 'There comes a time where silence is betrayal' and this is it, not just Vietnam then but Iraq now and the middle-east, it is time to break the silence," Rowe continued.

Rowe then pointed out that when King "took up the issue of poverty, when he said that economic exploitation was a part of the civil rights movement that got him killed. So if you are going to merge, if you are going to be a civil rights activist, if you are going to speak today for Martin Luther King then you are merging the histories of militarism and the issues of poverty and the issues of racism in making them one," Rowe said.

2006 marked the 77th birthday of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. It was also the twentieth anniversary of the recognition of King's birthday as a federal holiday.

For the first time a 'Detroit MLK Spirit of Detroit Award' was presented by planning committee member Fran Rosinski to the Detroit City Council's President-Emeritus, Ms. Maryann Mahaffey. Ms. Mahaffey recently retired from over three decades of service on the legislative body for the city. The award was created by local artist Aaron Ochylski.

According to Rosinski: "We reached out to our artists in the community to create an original piece of art work which reflects the artist's vision of the Spirit of Detroit. This year's local artist, Aaron Ochylski, created this piece-- described by the artist as a compilation of diverse pieces of glass that form a unified whole. When you look inside there is a mosaic of mirrors--the viewer sees himself and becomes part of the experience of unity and diversity."

Voices from the community

A host of speakers representing labor, community and peace organizations delivered presentations on their respective struggles.

Jozette Dowdell of the Childcare Providers Union, that is seeking recognition through AFSCME and the UAW, spoke about how they are working on behalf of 34,000 workers in Wayne County.

"Dr. King fought for laws upholding equal rights and against segregation. As it stands today in 2006 we are still separated by that Eight Mile line. Childcare providers in Wayne County make $1.88 per hour. Childcare providers are not just childcare providers, we are parents, we are teachers, we're doctors, we're psychologist," Dowdell stated.

"I am asking you to understand that we are here joining with the UAW and AFSCME to form a union so we can have better wages, health insurance, workman's compensation and all of those same things that Dr. King and Rosa Parks stood for to begin with."

"To me his final speech that he gave when speaking with the garbage workers in Memphis when he said stay together, stick together until every demand is met. We ain't going to let nobody turn us around. That is how the childcare providers feel," Dowdell concluded. Atty. Jerry Goldberg, who has worked with the Delphi employees calling themselves 'Soldiers of Solidarity,' spoke to the audience. This rank-and-file committee protested recently outside the International Auto Show held at Cobo Conference Center in downtown Detroit.

Goldberg said that the committee came together to "fight against this latest attack on working people. As we all know Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while he was supporting sanitation workers in Memphis and he always spoke of the connection between the struggle of all working people and all oppressed people. His last act was to organize a poor peoples' march on Washington, to bring together the struggle for social and economic justice."

Goldberg pointed out how the Delphi auto parts company is using the bankruptcy courts to impose a 63% wage cut. "To take away workers' pensions that they have worked for twenty, twenty-five years of their lives, to steal them by getting a judge to sign away these pensions."

"To take away health benefits and most important to take away jobs, tens of thousands of jobs that are so needed in this economy. The use bankruptcy has become a weapon of the rich and powerful. No different than the use of the military, the use of scabs, the use of the National Guard. It is a new weapon of choice, a little more sophisticated, but it is nothing more than a weapon of repression to take away hard fought rights of workers," Goldberg emphasized.

Other speakers at the rally included Arnie Steiber of the Veterans for Peace organization who discussed his personal journey from being drafted into the Vietnam war to a consciousness of being anti-war and pro-peace. This organization has been a leading voice in the current American military occupation of Iraq.

Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality discussed the plight of the homeless in the city. He said that the homeless were only displaced workers. He also called upon the rally participants to not forget Eric Williams, a homeless man who was gunned down by the State Police last year.

His assailant, Jay Morningstar, was recently acquitted of all charges in connection with the killing despite the fact that the shooting was witnessed by many people including two Detroit police officers.

City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson was present and spoke briefly on the legacy of Dr. King. Other dignitaries were present including State Senator Martha Scott and Ms. Brenda Jones, who was recently elected to the Detroit City Council. Darnell White of the NAACP Youth also spoke on the role of young people in the civil rights movement today.

Music was provided by the Courtis School Choir under the direction of Sandra Hines and James Hewlitt. In introducing the Choir Sandra Hines stated that "the dream is still alive and here it is, this is our future." Hines said that "if you really want to honor Dr. King this is what you can do: work with the children. Don't talk about it, work with them for real. Because the children are our future."

Gov. Jenifer Granholm arrived at the rally and addressed the crowd reflecting on her understanding of the legacy of Martin Luther King. "We have a responsibility to celebrate the strength of unity and strong love together," Granholm said. "It is important that we exhibit strong daily acts of love."

Granholm also suggested that people act as mentors for children. She mentioned that she is doing this for two young girls and that if she could do it as Governor, then there was no excuse for others. The Governor also expressed opposition to the anti- affirmative action proposal that may appear on the November ballot in the state of Michigan. "If we send a message to the world that we are not welcoming to diversity, that is a terrible, terrible message," she said.

Granholm emphasized that affirmative action programs should be presented as a moral issue, an historical issue and a question of competition.

Later a video presentation produced by MLK Planning Committee member John Donabedian was screened. The piece consisted of newsreel footage of Dr. King and the civil rights movement utilizing the soundtrack from the latest Stevie Wonder CD entitled "A Time to Love." March thru downtown After 1:30 p.m. the march began on Woodward avenue. Dozens of signs reading "Money for Our City, Not for War" and "Bring the Troops Home Now" were carried by the demonstrators.

According to the "South End" newspaper from Wayne State University, over 1,000 people marched in the demonstration. A Drumline was provided by the Ann Arbor Trail Middle School Marching Band. Marchers chanted "No Justice, No Peace: US Out of the Middle-East," and other slogans. After arriving back at Central United Methodist Church, the audience was entertained by the Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit. Later students read essays in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Art works from the youth were also presented.

Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor's Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) spoke on the historic struggle in this southwest Michigan city. Pinkney was indicted last year on four felony charges after leading a successful recall campaign against a city commissioner in Benton Harbor.

Benton Harbor was the scene of three days of rebellion during the summer of 2003 in the aftermath of the death of a young African-American man who was being illegally chased by the County police. Pinkney is seeking support for his defense on what has been described as an attempted frame-up for vote fraud and vote tampering.

The Detroit MLK Day march and rally was co-sponsored, endorsed and supported by numerous organizations including: the International Workers of the World, the Michigan Citizen Newspaper, Sacred Heart Church, St. John's Episcopal Church, UAW Local 22, UAW Region 1A, the Central United Methodist Church, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the First Unitarian Universalist Church, the Palestine Office of Michigan, the Metropolitan Academy of Detroit, the US-Cuba Labor Exchange, the Veterans for Peace, the International Action Center, the Interfaith Committee on Workers Issues, the Detroit Area Peace and Justice Network, the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit (CPR), the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment, the Detroit Green Party, Dr. Gloria House of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the Detroit Urban League, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Advocates for Informed Nonviolent Social Change and other organizations.

For more information on the Detroit MLK Committee just log on to the following URL: http://www.mecawi.org or e-mail: mlkdetroit@comcast.net.

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