President Obama spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 1963 March on Washington. PHOTO: Reuters
President Obama marked the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the same place that Dr. King delivered his speech: on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial. President Clinton and Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, spoke as well. All three delivered the same message: equality has come a long way, but it is not done.
“To dismiss the magnitude of this progress [since the 1963 March on Washington], to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed -- that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those year,” Obama stated. “But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete.”
Obama briefly discussed the two main causes of the persistent inequality between whites and racial minorities: a globalized market and entrenched interests fighting against pro-middle class policies, such as a higher minimum wage, better labor laws and taxing the rich.
Because the March on Washington is about citizen action, and because Washington itself rarely does anything too dramatic (2001-3 notwithstanding) without a big citizen movement, Obama called on America to rise up and create the next wave of progress.
“Change doesn’t come from Washington,” Obama declared, “it comes to Washington.” A nice rhetorical move, invoking both the power of citizens to influence policy, and the physical travel of the people there, and the people who traveled to see Martin Luther King Jr. speak fifty years ago.
Obama’s message is simple and accurate: the game of politics, as it is currently constructed, makes Washington worse than the people it represents. To counteract this, Americans must take it on themselves to be better than Washington, and create the next wave of change: better wages, universal healthcare, universal education, more equal opportunity… those are causes worth marching for.