The more than 150 activists and Chicago public service workers who are set to take part in Saturday’s “Realize the Dream March And Rally” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington say their message will be the same as the thousands of people who rallied at the nation’s capital in 1963: jobs and justice.
“Fifty years ago it was unimaginable that the United States could have an African- American president. Today that unimaginable thought is a reality,” said Tonya Pugh-Rizer, an SEIU* Healthcare Illinois and Indiana member who boarded a bus to Washington Friday evening with other workers and activists, who are calling themselves the "Chicago Labor Freedom Riders."
“But even with an African-American president who has worked hard to address issues that impact working people, we are still marching for jobs and justice,” she said.
Members of Action Now, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), National Nurses United (NNU), the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 11, SEIU and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) will meet up with thousands of others tomorrow to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
Saturday's Realize the Dream rally and march was initiated by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and is co-sponsored by dozens of national and international unions, church and community organizations.
Pugh-Rizer said she’s joining the Chicago Labor Freedom Riders to do what she wasn’t able to do in 1963.
“I wasn’t able to be there with Martin Luther King Jr., but I will be there to add my voice in 2013,” she said.
But Mack Julion, president of NALC Branch 11, said the freedom riders aren’t simply traveling to Washington to commemorate one of the biggest political rallies for human rights in U.S. history, they’re going because they’re “fighters.”
“They gathered 50 years ago because of jobs, because of justice, because of freedom, and 50 years later we're still fighting that fight,” he said. “We see the attack on the (Voting) Rights Act. We see the attack on workers. The Fight for 15. The attack on public workers.”
He added that the "demise" of the postal service isn’t because of a lack of revenue, “It’s because there’s an attack on public service."
Dr. King’s vision for the country has not yet been realized, he stressed.
“It was not realized when the brother from the South Side occupied the White House,” Julion said. “President Obama is not the realization of the dream ... The attack on our teachers and our schools right here in Chicago, it’s an attack on labor. They’re not guarding and providing the same freedom across the city, so we’re not going there simply to commemorate a dream, we're going there to fight.”
CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson said the closing of neighborhood schools, public hospitals, health care clinics and other attacks on public services threaten African Americans’ right to full equality.
“The current wave of austerity, anti-union attacks and hostility to government programs disproportionately targets the African-American community,” he said. “The attack on public sector unions has ominous implications for the black community. That’s why labor rights and civil rights go hand in hand.”
Brunson said the group may be bringing the “Chicago flavor” to Washington, but these issues don’t only impact those in the Windy City.
“All of the cities in this nation ... are under attack,” he said. “We have to let them know ... stop closing down our schools. Stop closing down our hospitals and clinics. Stop closing our libraries. Stop going after our postal workers. Stop going after our jobs.”
Pugh-Rizer said she’s meeting up with other nursing home, hospital, and childcare workers at the National Mall on Saturday to demand more jobs, a living wage and respect for the work that they do.
“Even though we march tomorrow, we must return home and continue to be in the streets fighting for fair wages, respect, dignity (and) justice in the workplace,” she said.
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.