August 28, 2013
Written by Linda Meric, national executive director
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This week marks the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when hundreds of thousands of people mobilized for equality, jobs and freedom. The monumental event and the organizing that preceded and followed it helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act – legislation that helped reshape our country and the economy. But in the words of Dr. King on that historic day, ‘1963 is not the end, but a beginning.’
Enormous strides have been made as a result of the civil rights movement. We saw the end of Jim Crow. We’ve seen African-Americans, Latinos, women and others gain access to jobs and education they were previously denied. In 1963, 42 percent of African-Americans lived below the poverty line; in 2011 that percentage had dropped to 27 percent. We have an African-American President.
But we are not close to being done with the work of civil rights. We are not close to achieving Dr. King’s dream. We have much work to do.
As described by scholar, lawyer and author Michelle Alexander, there is a “new Jim Crow” in our country, the mass incarceration of African-American men at rates almost triple their rate in the U. S. population. There is a growing chasm of inequality, evidenced by African-American women earning only 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2011.
Women and people of color are still underrepresented in engineering and the sciences, in law enforcement, in the skilled trades, and in corporate and political leadership. African-Americans, Latinos, other people of color and women are over-represented in the lowest-paying jobs – without access to family-supporting wages, health care or basic labor standards like earned paid sick days and access to paid leave.
Almost twice the national average 27 percent of African-Americans live in poverty. The unemployment rate among African-Americans, at 13.6 percent, is also almost twice the national average. Joblessness and lack of opportunity were rampant in African-American communities before the Great Recession; the economic downturn exacerbated those problems and left many facing foreclosure and homelessness. President Obama’s achievements do not mirror the reality of most African-Americans. In fact, the Supreme Court this summer struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act.
As Henry Louis Gates, Jr., scholar and editor-in-chief of The Root, said reflecting on the March’s 50th anniversary, “We are living through challenging times with a mix of pride at what we have accomplished and despair at the facts that tell us that despite the formal smashing of ‘the manacles of segregation,’ as King called them, too many black men, women and children 50 years on from the march still dwell ‘on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,’ while others are ‘still languishing in the corners of American society’ feeling like ‘exile[s] in [their] own land.’”
And the civil rights work remaining to be done affects more than African-Americans. Women and people of color throughout the land continue to face disparities and inequities, poverty and lack of opportunity. Millions of immigrants are caught in an unjust and broken immigration system, while the U. S. House of Representatives refuses to enact the fixes that Americans have said we want and need. There is currently no federal law preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Now in 2013, we must all recommit ourselves to a renewed effort to expand opportunity to everyone. We all benefit when everyone has a fair chance at the American Dream. We must join together to fight to increase economic security, protection against discrimination, comprehensive immigration reform, a robust safety net and voting rights. We must continue the fight for the basic standards that all of us need to contribute to overall stability for families, communities and a growing economy
We must speak out. We must join together. We must take action. We must keep marching.
About 9to5: Winning justice for working women for 40 years, 9to5 leads the way to create a powerful force for change on issues affecting low-wage women and their families. Through hands-on leadership development, grassroots organizing and policy advocacy, 9to5 organizes women in campaigns for family-supporting jobs with living wages and paid sick days; and stronger protections against workplace discrimination. To learn more or to get involved, visit 9to5.org and find us on Facebook and Twitter.