At King birthday rally, elected officials urge grassroots involvement

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OAKLAND, Calif. - Celebrating "a historic time," and stepping forward at a difficult moment to build the kind of community involvement advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were twin themes as area elected officials addressed a crowd that packed the great hall at International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6 to honor the great civil rights and peace leader.

"We must ask ourselves at this moment, what would Dr. King want us to do in 2011?" U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee told the crowd as she called for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz. "I am sure he would teach and preach to us to use this very difficult period to champion once again the principles of nonviolence." King would warn of the unacceptable consequences of hate speech, and urge gun control and gun safety measures, she added.

"As peacemakers we must pursue nonviolence locally," Lee said. "And we must also support national and international efforts to end disastrous wars that have taken tens of thousands of thousands of lives and directed our precious resources away from our pressing economic needs here at home."

To overwhelming applause, Lee said she plans to reintroduce legislation she authored in the last session of Congress, to end funding for combat operations in Afghanistan, allowing only funds to protect troops and contractors there and bring them home.

Lee called for "refocusing our national efforts" on job creation, cutting the deficit, reining in military spending to a level ensuring a strong national defense, and protecting health care as a basic human right.

Area Democratic Assemblyman Sandre Swanson called the present moment "a historic time," with the first African American in the White House, election of a Democratic governor and state officials and inauguration of the first Asian American mayor of Oakland. But," he asked, "does it mean that we now can be comfortable at home, or does it mean that because there is someone in high authority who may listen to what we have to say, our obligation is to become more of an advocate for the things we believe in?"

Swanson urged the audience to support Lee as she presses the administration "to do more for the have-nots," and to back efforts at the state level to maintain human services in the face of California's $25 billion-plus budget shortfall.

New Oakland Mayor Jean Quan brought the call for community involvement home as she told the audience, "I need you all to think how you can give this city back an hour a week, whether it's reading to a third grader, mentoring a very tough and talky teenager, or cleaning bottles out of the estuary at the beautiful Martin Luther King Shoreline Park."

Mayor for just two weeks, Quan has already brought hundreds of Oaklanders out of their homes to help clean and refurbish some of the city's most economically challenged neighborhoods. Challenged by some in the media that the efforts were "for political show," Quan said she replied, "No, you don't know me very well. I expect people to do this every month."

Also among those addressing the rally were Oakland City Council President Larry Reid, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, Alameda Labor Council President Dionisio Rosario and the Rev. Dr. Robert A. Wilkens, president of the YMCA of the East Bay.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel. Rep. Barbara Lee addresses MLK event.

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