The Rev. Jesse Jackson was quick to recognize the connection between the civil rights struggles of his youth and the worker rights struggles of Wisconsin in 2011.
Six weeks ago, when the struggle that would capture the imagination of the nation and the world was in its infancy, Jackson was in Madison, telling 50,000 demonstrators at a rally protesting Governor Scott Walker’s anti-labor agenda that they were part of “a Martin Luther King moment.”
Jackson, inspired by the crowds, and by the fact that they kept coming back for more rallies saw in Wisconsin a reflection of the energy and commitment he knew when he and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were marching together.
He heard the echo in the mention of collective-bargaining rights.
King marched his last marches, spoke his last speeches, with public employees who were battling for fair pay, respect and, yes, collective bargaining rights in Memphis.
Jackson, who was with King for those last marches and speeches, who was with King on the night he was assassinated, says the struggles of 1968 and 2011 are of a piece.
“We marched for civil rights and for workplace rights. We marched for social progress and economic progress,” Jackson said when he returned to Madison Monday for a series of union rallies leading up to the largest of more than 1,000 “We Are One” marches, rallies, demonstrations and teach-ins.
More than thirty of those events took place across Wisconsin—teach-ins, movie screenings, rallies, marches and candlelight vigils. In Appleton, Beloit, DePere, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Janesville, Kaukauna, Kenosha, La Crosse, Menomonie, Milwaukee, Oconto Falls, Oshkosh, Platteville, Racine, Ripon, River Falls, Shawano, Sheboygan, Steven’s Point and Wausau, they came together once more. And those who rallied knew exactly why they were there.
“Forty-three years after the assassination of Dr. King, working men and women face politically motivated attacks aimed at silencing their rights and voices,” explained Madison Firefighters Local 311 member Clay Christenson. “Unfortunately, the efforts to undermine the middle class have spread from state Capitol to state Capitol. Today, we stand together not only against Scott Walker’s attempts to destroy more than fifty years of labor-management cooperation in Wisconsin but against the attacks on workers nationwide.”
Throughout the day, Jesse Jackson stood with them—nurses, teachers, students, at rallies in Milwaukee and then Madison.