TWO HUNDRED YEARS ago, over 3,000 united, determined and fearless African Americans staged the first African American protest on U.S. soil at Philadelphia’s own Mother Bethel Church. They gathered to reject a plan to exile free blacks back to their homeland.
But, more important, they gathered to publicly stake their claim on the United States and their future in it.
Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Philadelphians of all races, faith traditions, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities will gather at Mother Bethel again to stake our claim on United States and our role in determining its future. Thousands will march from all neighborhoods of our city and the surrounding suburbs to demonstrate that a united, determined and fearless group of citizens can transform our city, our country and our world.
As we march, we draw on King’s deep wisdom to guide our actions. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, King named racism, militarism and materialism as the deadly triplets afflicting America. King called for a revolution of values in American society. He spoke of “the fierce urgency of Now.”
Today, the urgency of Now is just as compelling, as we face many of the same problems, but even greater challenges that have put our most basic democratic institutions under attack.
It is in this atmosphere where many are simply trying to hold ground that we dare to reimagine a better and greater America. While current affairs might cause us to despair, we choose to fight for a 21st-century revolution of values – a revolution of values that can transform our country into a place of unprecedented prosperity and equality.
These values include:
* The right to representative democracy, which promotes policies that values the humanity of all people equally, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, religion or national origin, and preserves and expands their right to vote, freedom of association and communication.
* The right to be free from all forms of racism: intentional, unintentional, implicit, explicit, institutional, personal, disparate treatment and disparate impact.
* The right to shared prosperity, which includes, but is not limited to, full employment, a living wage, a guaranteed income, pay equity for women and hunger-free communities for all.
* The right to care for our common home, Earth, including clean energy and water policies that promote the planet’s health and well-being.
* The right to a fairly and fully funded quality public education – for all children.
* The right to affordable, quality housing for all which includes policies that end gentrification in our cities.
* The right to health care for all, including policies that fully fund Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
* The right to equal justice for all from a civilian police force and criminal justice system free from excessive force, racial discrimination, police brutality, mass incarceration and prison for-profit corporations.
* The right to a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.
* The right to unionize and collectively bargain.
Just like the protesters of 200 years ago, we believe in the power of united citizens working together to change the future of this country. By marching on MLK Day, we commit ourselves to his message of demonstration, action, resistance and empowerment. As we gather at the historic Mother Bethel Church, we make our demand that all citizens and our leaders – political, business, religious and community – commit themselves to these values.
The Rev. Greg Holston is executive director of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER). The Rev. Mark Tyler is pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church. Helen Gym is a member of the Philadelphia City Council.
For more on Monday’s march, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit powerinterfaith.org or call 215-232-7697.