OLYMPIA, Wash. — Vowing to keep pressure on lawmakers to do more to help the poor, a few hundred anti-poverty activists marched to the Capitol and rallied on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Speakers invoked the memory of King, saying that by focusing on poverty they were continuing his work.
"If Martin could die for the struggle of the poor, I can live for it," Jeffrey Carrol of VOICES, a Spokane-based anti-poverty group, said Monday.
Carrol, who said he marched in civil rights rallies in Mississippi and Louisiana in the 1960s, led marchers in chants as they walked the six blocks from St. John's Episcopal Church to the Capitol in frigid temperatures.
"We came to let (lawmakers) know that they're not paying attention," Carrol said. "Poor people are dissatisfied."
Jesse Miller, vice chairwoman of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, said the groups were trying to pressure lawmakers to solve some of the root causes of poverty, such as lack of health care and education.
"Martin Luther King was dealing with these issues back then," Miller said. "They still need to be dealt with now."
The wish list for the groups includes securing health care for all, making housing more affordable, putting a check on predatory payday lenders, helping low-income people save money by expanding the state's individual development account program and improving access to higher education.
"We talk to low-income people, and they tell us these are the issues affecting them," Miller said.
It was the first trip to the state Capitol for Elaine Ivery of University Place and her daughters Chiyoko, 10, and Rieko, 4.
"I thought it would be a good experience for them," Ivery said. "We're not in that bad of a situation, but I felt we needed to come and help."
Ivery is a health care worker, but says she cannot afford health insurance. Her children are enrolled in the state insurance program.
"Unfortunately, there are a lot of things wrong with education and health care right now," Ivery said. "And I know several people who are barely making it. We need to help them."
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, were scheduled to speak at the rally but were unable to make it due to scheduling conflicts, their offices said.
Besides the march and rally, the state House passed a resolution honoring King and listened to a gospel choir sing. The Senate passed a resolution Friday.
Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, spoke about his 96-year-old grandfather in Tennessee. Pettigrew, one of three Black lawmakers, said King helped open opportunities that his grandfather's generation didn't have.
"When we are sworn in every other year, we get this document," Pettigrew said. "Every year I think about who I'm going to give it to. ... This is going to go to my grandfather. Because standing here before you, humbly, is a grandson of a one-armed, African American sharecropper."
The House also celebrated Children's Day, with several lawmakers bringing their children and grandchildren onto the floor.
Pettigrew brought his daughter Linda, 6, and great-nephew Oshea Berteaux, 10.
"This gives them the opportunity to see what I do," Pettigrew said. "It has turned into a very special day."
The capitol events were among several memorials that took place statewide. There were marches and parades in Seattle and around 1,500 people attended a unity march in Spokane.
Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke at the 19th annual Tacoma Human Rights and Human Services Department's King celebration. The event featured music, dance and dramatic performances.
Gregoire said King was a dedicated advocate for education.
"That's why I think, in this state, if we want the future that our children need and deserve, we need to stand up for education for every single one of our children," Gregoire said.
The Democratic governor has proposed more than $1 billion worth of education improvement initiatives, including teacher salary increases, class-size reduction grants and money to boost math and science education.
—The Associated Press