In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed upwards of 250,000 civil rights supporters. His famous speech – “I Have a Dream” – described not only a brighter future for all Americans but addressed the economic problems plaguing the country.
This morning we walked along the Mall to see the monuments, but we couldn’t get close to most of them because they were gated off from the thousands of people gathering to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration … along with Bono, Beyonce, and other celebrities. The concert started at 2 but by 10:30 am, there were at least a thousand people there, if not more than two thousand. People were sitting on blankets, drinking coffee, trying to keep warm and save a decent spot to see the show that took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
By the time Obama made an appearance around 4, I heard there were half a million people there. Seeing those gathered early in the day I couldn’t help but imagine what the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 must have been like – being surrounded by thousands of people motivated, passionate, and empowered to make monumental change in our country.
I’ve stood on that spot just below Lincoln where King gave his speech, but I’ve never seen so many people together in that place. There were people of all ages, races and places. They were all using the National Mall, which is so often used as a place of remembrance and recreation, as a place to come together, share a dream, send a message, and further enact change.
I don’t really like comparisons between Obama and King; they are very different figures. However, I do think it is important to think of the Civil Rights Movement during Obama’s Inauguration (and I would write the exact same even if tomorrow were not MLK Day).
A vital part of King’s message that is often lost was the importance of economic progress not only for African-Americans but all people. Now that theme is more pressing than ever. Every day more people are losing their jobs, their homes, their livelihood. It is hard to remember the recession at this moment in DC because we’re in the middle of a gigantic celebration, but today the sight of so many people on the Mall reminded me of the importance of Obama’s presidency for all of us.