Thousands turn out for Sharpton-led rally in D.C.
(AP, ABC7) - Thousands of Americans led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civic leaders rallied for easier access to jobs on Saturday as they gathered against the backdrop of the Washington Monument and marched to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The rally was intended to drum up support for President Barack Obama's jobs plan, but speakers used the platform for causes as varied as condemning voter identification laws and last month's execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.
Davis was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer. He maintained his innocence until his death, and thousands around the world rallied to his cause. But state and federal courts repeatedly ruled that there was not enough evidence to exonerate him.
Sharpton, the featured speaker at the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, blasted the U.S. Senate for its failure to pass Obama's $450 billion jobs bill. The measure includes an extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, as well as money to help local governments keep teachers and other workers on the job.
"If you can't get the jobs bill done in the suites, then we will get the jobs bill done in the streets," Sharpton said to cheers and applause.
He said Martin Luther King would have supported their cause. King's son Martin Luther King III was also among the speakers.
"Over 45 years ago, my father talked about a redistribution of wealth. In fact, that is probably why he was killed," King said. "Because he said if America is going to survive responsibly, then it must have a redistribution of wealth."
Separately, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray bemoaned the high unemployment rates in poor pockets of the city and the lack of autonomy enjoyed by the D.C. government. He says it's a travesty that the district's budget has to be sent to Congress for approval.
“The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement knew, as Dr. King did, that, if African Americans continued to wait patiently for their rights to be given to them, it would never happen,” Gray said. “How true that was then, and how true it still is today – when, well over 40 years later, the leaders of Congress keep telling the residents of the District of Columbia to ‘wait.’"
The demonstrators attending the Gray-led protest marched from Freedom Plaza to the grounds of the Washington Monument, where they joined Sharpton.
Among those who attended Saturday was Kathie Williams, a part-time administrator for the Howard County, Md., parks and recreation department. She's been struggling to land a full-time job despite an active search.
"No one has responded to me," Williams said.
Belinda Shade, 56, of Waldorf, Md., works as a special education school administrator but said the economy still makes her insecure.
"Right now I have a job, but I don't know what might happen tomorrow," Shade said, later adding, "There are no jobs. People are really hurting. Everything is coming apart as a result."
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray held a separate protest supporting greater autonomy for the district government - Congress must approve the local government's budget - and joined in the larger gathering. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers were among the other speakers.
Nonetheless, Sharpton said the rally was not intended as an overtly political statement or as part of the president's re-election bid.
"This is not about Obama," he said. "This is about my mama."