Economic inequality

  • August 28, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Gabriel “Jack” Chin, Professor of Law, University of California, Davis School of Law. Professor Chin is the author of The Tyranny of the Minority: Jim Crow and the Counter-Majoritarian Difficulty in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review(with Randy Wagner). This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.    

    As Americans reflect on events a half century in the past, I hope they will consider how it might guide our actions now. In particular, I hope people will think about what Americans still owe the African American community.

    On August 28, 1963, the date of the March on Washington, the United States was pervasively discriminatory to a degree not fully appreciated today.  African Americans bore a significant burden; in many or most parts of the country, they could not vote, attend public schools with whites, patronize the public accommodations or live in the housing that they wished, or hope to be hired for a broad range of public and private employment. 

    But African Americans were hardly the only oppressed group. Rape within marriage was no crime, and, although the Equal Pay Act was on the books and would take effect in 1964, employers could get around it simply by not hiring women for good jobs.  The idea that gay men and lesbians might legally marry someone of the same sex was absurd; instead, investigation, prosecution, and imprisonment for sodomy were an important part of the business of law enforcement.  Un-American immigrants (Africans, Jews and Catholics) were discouraged from immigrating through gerrymandered quotas; Asians were excluded by race.  The list of those whose marginalization was justified and defended as obviously correct was long, and included people with mental or physical disabilities, Indians, religious minorities including Jews and Muslims, children born out of wedlock, and single mothers.

    America was remade thanks to the bodies and blood of African Americans -- whites and others also participated in the civil rights movement, of course, but, primarily, it was African Americans. The civil rights struggle, exemplified by the March on Washington, had revolutionary consequences. Part of its effect was near-term changes like passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the unsung but perhaps most effective anti-racist legislation of the period, the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, which, by allowing for immigration on a non-racial basis, put America on the path to being a majority-minority nation.  

  • August 27, 2013
    Guest Post

    by J. Chris Sanders, Of Counsel, Kircher, Suetholz and Grayson. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    In 1963, hundreds of thousands marched on Washington for jobs and freedom. That huge effort and historic day, 50 years ago this month, is being commemorated with an anniversary march and surrounding activities. I hope it's big- nothing less than amazing will do.

    An anniversary march is a moment for reflection. Others more qualified than me will have much to say on the history and state of civil rights in America. But this anniversary has me thinking about marches and marching in general. Why march? What does it do? Critics and cynics say, "Nothing. Marches are a waste of time and money. They're fruitless gestures.  Fixes to major problems and change on the scale needed don’t come on the heels of a weekend in Washington."

    I disagree. I believe marches bring results, not simultaneously with the throngs moving down the street, but results that aren't immediate are no less results. Marches matter and marches work. Marches (and rallies and large-scale benefit concerts for causes and more) are group expressions of individual fears, anger, hopes, and dreams gathered together.

    People who go to the trouble and expense of marching are people to be reckoned with. We leave behind the comforts of home and the comfort zone of lonely railing against the TV and on social media.  We briefly put aside the challenges of daily life- jobs, bills, kids- for a higher purpose. As the Bible says, we present ourselves, literally, physically, our bodies as living sacrifices of time, comfort,  money, and hope. We're weekend pilgrims, traveling to stand, listen, yell, sing, and pray in public space.

    At a successful march it is obvious, with a palpable urgency in the air, that the consent of the governed is thin with wear from the pressure, resistance and inertia exerted by those in power. Thus the march is big-picture direct action. It declares that the reins of power have passed, for a time, to the people on the strength and virtue of a big idea whose time has come.

  • August 23, 2013
    Guest Post

    By Joseph Hansen, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    The UFCW is proud to stand with our brothers and sisters from across the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The march, organized largely by civil rights and labor leaders to promote freedom, economic equality and jobs, was one of the most important events in U.S. history and paved the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    In spite of the advances we have made over the last 50 years -- including the election of our first African American president -- thefight for social and economic justice continues.  The Great Recession has widened the gap between the rich and poor, and the very concept of the American Dream -- namely that hard work pays off and the next generation will do better than the current one -- is in jeopardy.

    The African American and Latino communities, in particular, have been hit the hardest by the recent economic downturn, and the unemployment rate among African Americans continues to register in the double digits. Comprehensive immigration reform has not yet been realized, and our current system penalizes too many people whose only crime is trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Minority communities have also been the targets of voter suppression, and the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down key parts of the Voting Rights Act will undermine their access to the ballot.

  • August 23, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Nicole G. Berner, Associate General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Elena Medina, SEIU Law fellow. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    Fifty years ago, a quarter of a million Americans converged at our nation’s capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They demanded, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., payment on the nation’s promissory note for racial and economic justice. Our founding leaders executed that note when they signed into law the inalienable rights set forth in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Yet almost two centuries later, the country was mired in racial segregation and discrimination. So on August 28, 1963, Dr. King and other civil rights leaders and activists called on America to cease defaulting on its obligations to its citizens of color.There have been many crucial victories since that historic day, but five decades later the promises of that note remain out of reach for too many people. Due to the proliferation of low-wage jobs, too many hardworking Americans still cannot afford basic necessities like groceries, rent, childcare and transportation. 

    Dr. King understood that the struggles for racial equality and economic justice are inextricably linked.  In his words, “[w]hat does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” Dr. King therefore fought tirelessly alongside labor activists for what he believed were the rights of all workers to “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

    Indeed, it was the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. Thirteen hundred Black sanitation workers had walked off the job to protest unsafe working conditions and discriminatory treatment. They refused to return until they secured better pay, improved working conditions and union recognition. Dr. King applauded them for “reminding, not only Memphis,” but also “the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” Tragically, he was assassinated the following day. But he would have been proud to know that those sanitation workers went on to negotiate an agreement implementing all of their demands.

  • August 22, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A. Philip Randolph the influential labor and civil rights leader called Bayard Rustin “Mr. March,” referring to Rustin’s integral role in crafting the iconic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The A. Philip Randolph’s website describes Rustin’s tireless efforts to advance equality and human rights in America and describes him as the “Deputy Director and Chief Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the 50th anniversary of which is being commemorated with events beginning this week and into next week.

    But because Rustin was also gay and refused to be someone he was not, he was at the time shunned by some within the civil rights movement and not surprisingly tarred by the FBI and other federal authorities as a “pervert.” Rustin’s sexuality was at the time employed crudely to try and undermine his noble and trailblazing work.   

    Change occurs albeit slowly within the country and sometimes for the better. Earlier this month President Obama in naming recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom included Rustin, posthumously. National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Executive Director and CEO Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks lauded Obama’s action saying, “As one of the chief architects of the Civil Rights Movement and the brilliance behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Rustin’s indispensable contributions to the ethos of our country continue to reverberate and push us toward a more just and fair society, America is indebted to Rustin, and our nation is right to finally honor him for his stalwart courage and leadership.”

    As USA Today reports, the NBJC will commemorate Rustin’s towering contributions to the civil rights movement and his invaluable leadership in bringing about the March on Washington during this year’s 50th Anniversary of the March. The A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), which Rustin helped found, will also commemorate Rustin and Randolph. APRI has a schedule of events here. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law also has a schedule of events. The Leadership Conference and many other public interest groups are commemorating the event.

    Last spring, ACS and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hosted an event on Rustin's legacy. Video of event is below “read more” or available here.

    Catherine Albisa, executive director of the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative, in kicking off the panel discussion described Rustin as “an extraordinary example of what a social activist should be. He suffered for being a gay man at a time when gay men and lesbian women were persecuted for their sexuality. And I think from what I’ve read, some of the greatest suffering may not even have come from what his enemies threw at him, but what his friends threw at him; you know for accusations that he was betraying the movement for nothing more than being who he was, and yet he managed to stay true to himself and stay true to the movement.”