The phrase "I have a dream," is engraved in the stone where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: SAUL LOEB, Getty Images)
(USA Today) -- It's been a half-century since Alix Dobkin, 73, came to the March on Washington. Now she is coming back to march again - albeit older and a bit changed, much like the modern-day civil rights movement.
This week and next, several events will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. On Saturday, thousands are expected to retrace the steps of earlier activists on the National Mall. Organizers say they will highlight unrealized goals from the last march and embrace more groups such as Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, which Dobkin will be representing.
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"We need each other for everybody to have freedom," said Dobkin, 73, a retired folk singer and songwriter who lives in Woodstock, N.Y. "The movement is way more inclusive, and it's great. We've learned that's the only way to get social justice."
The 1963 March on Washington was a watershed moment in the American civil rights movement because it was attended by 250,000 people, graced by King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial and followed by the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Several changes are evident 50 years later. For instance, women are playing a more visible role in the march, just as they are in today's world. Also, issues such as immigration reform will be discussed. Activists will use technology and social media to connect people and causes.
Dobkin said she plans to take her 10-year-old grandson to Saturday's march, which will be convened by Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III. She's hoping her grandson will learn to speak up about poverty, voter rights and unemployment rates, among other things. Her thoughts echo others who plan to attend the march.
Myriad concerns are motivating people to demonstrate through the streets of Washington. Some want to see self-defense laws changed after a jury found Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman innocent of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Others say they want unemployment and poverty rates lowered and more job opportunities for working-class people. Still more say they are concerned about voter rights after the Supreme Court in June struck down a coverage formula in the 1965 Voting Rights Act used to monitor states with a history of discrimination.
"There are still critical things we need to advocate for," said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. "We know voting rights are under attack in this country. We need more equal pay for women...Fifty years ago, it was about policy agenda, and 50 years later it's about a policy agenda of our times."
Organizers began hosting events including concerts, summits and town hall meetings this week. They will continue until Wednesday, which marks the exact day of the 1963 march. The closing event will feature President Obama, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and several other speakers at the Lincoln Memorial.
Both Sharpton and King told USA TODAY the anniversary events aim to remind the world that many of the concerns that motivated people to march 50 years ago remain problems today.
"It is as necessary and as effective now to march as it was 50 years ago," Sharpton said. "You have got to be engaged. You can't just do it on the Internet."
Sharpton said crowds will call attention to issues such as the impact of the Voting Rights Act and the facts behind disproportionately high unemployment rates among blacks.
Speakers for Saturday's march include: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Attorney General Eric Holder and the families of both Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin.
"Fifty years ago, the tone of the march was jobs and freedom," said King. "In a real sense, 50 years later, it's still jobs, freedom but (also) justice."
King, too, pointed to changes to the Voting Rights Act and ongoing issues of economic and racial inequalities as examples of the challenges that America still faces. When he speaks Saturday, King will encourage participants to create strategic plans to make changes and create partnerships with others.
"Success for me is the fact that this is not just a one-day event," King said. "I hope we are helping to till the soils and creating a new generation of leaders."
Angela Rye is co-founder and director of IMPACT, a Washington non-profit that focuses on empowering young professionals of color.
The next generation of activists, she said, should focus not on having another leader like the late King but on finding issues on which they can have an effect.
"We should focus on what our communities need," Rye said. "Marching is a means to an end. I'm hoping we can continue to unite around injustices so we can see justice everywhere."
For some, the answer to their communities' needs is better immigration laws. For the past year, Hispanic groups have turned to leaders in the civil rights community to help persuade Congress to pass an immigration bill that allows the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants to get U.S. citizenship.
The way both sides see it, the plight of those immigrants is the civil rights battle of this generation.
Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, said that shared struggle goes back all the way to the original March on Washington.
"There were many Latinos at the march," Murguia said. "Dr. King's words resonated not just with one community, but with many."
And it's why Hispanic groups will join this weekend's events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march.
But some, like Mark Krikorian, see the comparison as nothing more than opportunism.
Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that opposes a pathway to citizenship for the nation's undocumented immigrants.
It's "laughable" to compare the fight for equal rights for the descendants of slaves to undocumented immigrants, he said. One group was forcibly brought to the U.S. while the other chose to immigrate to the United States, he explained.
"Your ordinary black Americans ... they don't take kindly to this idea that legalizing illegal aliens is the same as extending basic civil rights to the descendants of slaves," Krikorian said. "Frankly, a lot of people think it's kind of insulting."
Krikorian's comments illustrate the problems that can arise when combining movements. During the original march, many also didn't see the concerns of gays and lesbians as civil rights issues. But times have changed.
Dobkin, who is gay, said she hopes people will learn something about others' struggles through the issues brought to light by this week's commemorative events. For her, that would mean, in part, understanding the issues around finding retirement homes that treat gay and transgender seniors equally.
Such understanding, she said, was what made the last march so important.
"Fifty years ago, the march changed people's consciousness about what was going on in this great free country," she said. "It was a real show of strength from people of all races and a real American thing to do."