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Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 11 August 2013

Rev. LeRoy Haines (R) with Bernie Foster, publisher of The Skanner News.

The historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is 50 years old this month. So all around the country activists will rally to celebrate the victories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, while gathering strength for the civil rights battles that lie ahead.

In Portland, protesters will meet up at 10am on August 24th, at Terry Schrunk Plaza before heading to Waterfront Park. The rally, speakers, and music will begin at 1pm. The regional event is planned for the same time as the national event in Washington DC. Confirmed speakers include: Sen. Jeff Merkley, Governor Kitzhaber and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

Whether you're concerned about racial profiling, voting rights, the lack of jobs and economic opportunities or disparities in policing, education, justice and health systems, organizers say this event is your opportunity not just to remember history, but to make history.

"We are seeing an attempt to turn back the clock on civil rights," says Rev. Leroy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Alliance coalition. "So we feel there is a critical need to draw attention to racial profiling, stand your ground laws, mass incarceration and equity in education and employment. These are great issues that we still have to challenge and deal with.

"One major goal of the Washington DC march and our regional march here is to get Congress to rewrite Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which was recently struck down the Supreme Court. We need to hold states accountable when they attempt to suppress African American and Latino votes, as well as seniors and other people."

Not everyone can travel to Washington DC, Haynes said. Yet many people believe in Martin Luther King's dream and want to make their voices heard for equity for all Americans.

And Michael Alexander, executive director of the Urban League of Portland, says we know that action is needed locally as well as nationally.

Leaders of the march (from right to left) Mathew Ahmann, Executive Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice; (seated with glasses) Cleveland Robinson, Chairman of the Demonstration Committee; (beside Robinson is) A. Philip Randolph, organizer of the demonstration, veteran labor leader who helped to found the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, American Federation of Labor (AFL), and a former vice president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); (standing behind the two chairs) Rabbi Joachim Prinz, President of the American Jewish Congress; (wearing a bow tie and standing beside Prinz is) Joseph Rauh, Jr, a Washington, DC attorney and civil rights, peace, and union activist; John Lewis, Chairman, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and Floyd McKissick, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality.]

 "In Portland, unemployment for African Americans is often double the rate of the majority population, and a 2012 federal inquiry found that Police Bureau engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force," he says. "The issues that compelled the 1963 March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom, including lack economic opportunity and police brutality, are still the pressing issues of today."

Between 200,000 and 300,000 people rallied at the mall in the U.S. capitol for the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom. The organizers included A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Whitney Young, president of the Urban League; Roy Wilkins, president of the NAACP, John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.;  and James Farmer of the Congress for Racial Equality. 

Bayard Rustin, was in charge of logistics. The longtime civil rights leader and gay activist, who created the first Freedom Ride was this week honored by President Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Crowds  of supporters came to demand jobs and freedom. They left with the words of Martin Luther King Junior's dream speech lighting up their hearts and minds. And they went to work for change.

One result of the mass protest was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"This was the culmination of the struggles of the modern civil rights movement that started in 1955 with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott and led eventually to the Birmingham campaign," Rev. Haynes said. "The end of segregation, the voting rights act, President Obama in the White House: That would not have happened without the push of the civil rights movement."

But as communities across the country celebrate how far we have come since the 60s, they also will be highlighting the continuing injustices and recent setbacks that have placed civil rights back on the national agenda. Statistics show that Black Americans and other people of color remain severely disadvantaged when it comes to jobs, education, equality of opportunity, and justice.

"For me as we reflect on the issues addressed by the March on Aug 28th 1963: Jobs, police brutality, education, housing, economic opportunity, I can't help have a heavy heart for the failure of my generation to pass on those lessons to our kids," says JoAnn Hardesty, of the Campaign to end the New Jim Crow.

"Today these issues are still the unfinished business of the civil rights movement and we must re-dedicate ourselves to protecting the civil rights of everyone because we see how quickly civil rights disappear under a culture of fear."

A broad range of civil rights organizations are sponsoring the march,  including the Urban League of Portland, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, the NAACP, the ACLU, Ecumenical Ministries, Peace and Justice Works, the International Brotherhood of Electricians and others.

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