Too bad about Glenn Beck.
Fox TV’s silliest self-promoter thought he had come up with a sure-fire way to claim a piece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Beck reserved the Lincoln Memorial on the day of the forty-seventh anniversary of King’s "I Have a Dream" speech. Then he called his minions to Washington for the supposed purpose of "reclaiming the civil rights movement."
Reclaim it from who? Why, the people who forged the civil rights movement, of course.
Beck’s purpose was to rewrite history so that the social and economic justice messages of the movement are obscured and America is left with nothing but a few rhetorical flourishes and a hazy memory of the struggles that were. And he had some luck getting the echo-chamber media to go along with the stunt.
But anyone who was paying attention Saturday knew that the continuation of the 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Justice"—which was called by the great socialist labor leader A. Philip Randolph and organized by another socialist, Bayard Rustin; both close allies of King, whose explicit focus on economic and social justice stood in stark contrast to Beck’s preachments—was not the slick, right-wing spin–dominated event in Washington.
It was the serious, issue-oriented march organized by the United Auto Workers union, a key supporter of the 1963 march, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a former aide to King.
Thousands marched in Detroit Saturday, after Jackson declared: "Detroit and Michigan are ground zero of the urban crisis. It’s time to enact real change for working families and all America."
Jackson and the new activist president of the UAW, Bob King, led the march, which marks the beginning of what the union head describes as a "massive campaign that brings so many concerned citizens together in the name of peace and mobilizing forces for change."
"Every community has in some way witnessed the affects of the nation’s economic meltdown. We need industrial and employment policies that work to keep jobs and manufacturing in the United States," says King. "Workers need to earn decent wages to provide for their families and help keep their neighborhoods and communities viable."
Off in Washington, Beck was complaining about how the country has "wandered in darkness" and talking about how "I kind of feel like God dropped a giant sandbag on my head,” while Sarah Palin was claiming she could "feel the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr." and "the one true god."
In Detroit, a pastor who actually marched with King, who was with King on the night the civil rights icon was slain in Memphis, spoke not of getting sandbagged but of real struggles and real accomplishments: of how marches in 1963 "transformed the country because of mass action" and led to enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And with the UAW’s King, he called on Americans to rally anew on behalf of a "Rebuild America: Jobs, Justice and Peace" campaign that demands a focus not on Glenn Beck’s ratings or Sarah Palin’s political prospects but on:
1. Jobs: economic reconstruction driven by targeted stimulus, reindustrialization and trade policy that will create jobs, support manufacturing in America and put workers first.
2. Justice: enforcement of the law regarding workers rights, civil rights, industrial regulation and creation of strong urban policy, and a fair and just education, economic and health policy.
3. Peace: ending the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, saving lives and redirecting the war budget to rebuilding America.
That’s not Glenn Beck’s agenda, and it its certainly not Sarah Palin’s.
But it maintains the mission of the man who campaigned for an "economic bill of rights" and wanted to "guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work."
Glenn Beck may claim that: "big government never lifts anybody out of poverty. It creates slaves—people who are dependent on the scraps from the government, the handouts."
But the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. promised that: "We will place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind. If that power refuses to acknowledge its debt to the poor, it would have failed to live up to its promise to insure ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to its citizens.’"
That is precisely what the marchers in Detroit were doing on Saturday.
And they will keep marching and rallying, on September 11 at Fighting Bob Fest, the great progressive populist gathering in Wisconsin where a crowd expected to number 10,000 will hear Jackson, and on October 2, when the "One Nation Working Together" march will bring tenss of thousands of activists to Washington—not in the service of Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin but in the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.