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by James Parks, Aug 26, 2011

Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said organizing must begin at the grassroots.
Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
King Center President Martin Luther King III recalled the close ties his father had with unions.
Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
Rep. John Lewis called for working people to “make some noise.”
Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
Unemployed painter Davon Lomax said it’s time to create more jobs.
Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
Jobs with Justice Director Sarita Gupta called for listening to ordinary Americans.
Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
Harvard professor Bruce Western said unions are key to fighting poverty.
Photo Credit: Kaveh Sardari/Page One
Cincinnati teacher Katie Hofmann said Ohio workers are stepping up for change.

Davon Lomax, a member of the Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 9 in New York, hasn’t worked for more than a year. One of his colleagues lost his home and ended up panhandling in the subways.

Katie Hofmann, a teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, says more and more of her students are homeless. Teachers who have not had a pay raise for five years regularly go into their pockets to buy lunch for children who are hungry and whose families have no money.

Lomax and Hofmann were two of the panelists who spoke at the AFL-CIO and The King Center  symposium on “Jobs, Justice and the American Dream” this morning. Participants in the first panel, Jobs and the American Dream, agreed that 48 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the nation is still far from achieving his vision of a nation where everyone who wants to work has a good job and the freedom to achieve to the best of his or her abilities.

This morning’s panel on ”Jobs and the American Dream” was the first of two in the symposium. A second panel on “Justice and the American Dream” will follow.

(Watch a replay of the live panel here.)

Martin Luther King III, president of The King Center, echoed that theme, saying economic justice is even more of a concern today than 48 years ago.

We’re here to do the work that must be done to represent what Martin Luther King stood for.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reminded the crowd of about 300 that King’s vision was not simply an end to racism. He saw ending racism as part of a larger struggle for human dignity—a larger struggle centered on economic justice.

The tragedy of American history in our lifetime is that today, while we have defeated legal segregation and driven open racism from our public life, we live in a country less economically equal than in Dr. King’s time. Jobs are scarcer, it’s harder to go to college and the right to a voice on the job has been largely taken away from America’s workers.

To get Americans back to work will require people to come together and “make some noise” and “to get in trouble again” by taking to the streets and demanding that Congress approve the money for a massive national jobs program, said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.

Both Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, and Hofmann said organizing and mobilizing ordinary people are key to building the movement that will realize King’s dream of economic equality. Gupta said our leaders must listen to the concerns and the visions of ordinary Americans who know what’s wrong.

Hofmann pointed out that there is a passion for change in the country, citing one of her fellow teachers who ran the 100 miles between Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, to deliver petitions to get a referendum to overturn Gov. John Kasich’s law that took away public workers’ ability to bargain collectively.

Harvard professor Bruce Western added that unions are the key to creating the kinds of jobs we will need to restore our nation’s economy. He pointed out that the decline of unions coincides with the decline in good-paying jobs and the increase in job insecurity.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker summed up the call for good jobs this way:

For months now, the lives of millions of Americans have been shaken up by economic uncertainty. Just as our nation’s capital literally shook this week, we hope that discussions like the one we will have today will shake our elected officials to move with boldness and a fierce urgency of now. We call on our leaders to respond to the desperate cries of the people for jobs and justice.

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