Detroit rallied for jobs, justice, and Dr. King’s “real dream”
Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib | Andrew Harnik/AP

DETROIT – On a chilly Monday afternoon, Detroiters gathered at the Historic St. Matthew’s & St. John’s Episcopal Church for the 21st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally for Jobs, Peace & Justice. Year after year, this rally brings together a wide range of progressive community, labor and faith organizations to celebrate the life and struggle of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as inspire attendees to continue the work of building a better world.

The program included a rich assortment of speeches, poetry, song, and dance, followed by a community meal. The entire event carried a spirit of unity and progress.

Among the distinguished list of speakers were United Auto Workers (UAW) President Sean Fain and Rep. Rashida Tlaib. With the ongoing war in Gaza, the banner reading “Michigan says No to War” was especially relevant.

Many speakers took the opportunity to call on the U.S. to cease its support for Israel and emphasized Dr. King’s contribution to the movement against the Vietnam war.

Representative Rashida Tlaib spoke on her censure from Congress for speaking against U.S. support for the ongoing genocide, thanking those representatives who stood with her. Connecting the struggle of Gaza to the struggles in Detroit, “cutting off water in Detroit or cutting off water in Gaza, it is violence and we won’t allow it to happen,” she declared.

Talking about the significance of MLK Day, Rep. Tlaib sought to “remind [her] colleagues in Washington D.C. [that] Dr. Martin Luther King Day is every single day in Detroit.” Touching on Detroit’s enduring fighting spirit, Tlaib continued saying that Detroiters “don’t wait for a day to celebrate this movement. We show up for action every single day.” This past year in Detroit has been no exception with Detroiters fighting on all fronts. 2023 saw large demonstrations against the war in Palestine, tenants organizing against eviction, water rights, and struggles against over taxation. Detroit also earned the name “Strike City” as workers joined picket lines across a wide variety of industries.

President Fain, in his address, spoke on the important connection between the civil rights movement and labor movement. He highlighted the fact that the UAW “was born and grew up alongside Dr. King,” pointing out that the first sit-down strike in the union’s history wasn’t the famous Flint sit-down strike.

The first sit-down strike was actually launched a year before at a Fisher body plant in Atlanta, Georgia, the home of Dr. King. Fain also underscored Dr. King’s commitment to the fight for workers’ rights, reminding the audience that, “Dr. King was no stranger to the strike,” and famously took up the struggle of striking Memphis sanitation workers.

Fain also argued that the tactics of the sit-down strikes that built the UAW and the sit-ins that built the Civil Rights Movement were not, “just similar in their tactics, they also shared a common principle: the fight for justice knows no limits.” Fain closed his speech reiterating the UAW’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

After the rally, People’s World spoke with Jonathan Mukes, who grew up only a few blocks from St. Matthews and St. John’s church. Mukes spoke on the importance of celebrating the real legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. “I feel like the legacy of MLK is shrouded in mystery – his legacy and his radicalness have been whitewashed.”

Mukes continued, saying that celebrating MLK Day was an important part of recognizing what Dr. King actually stood for in the face of “bullshit added onto his legacy” by the corporate media. The corporate narrative attempts to present MLK and the Civil Rights Movement in a silo, disconnected from other struggles over peace and workers’ rights.

The Civil Rights Movement was not just revolutionary for challenging segregation and white supremacy, but for challenging how the nation ought to be governed. Martin Luther King Jr. confronted a political system run by white corporate elites raking in massive profits from the three evils of institutional racism, endless war, and rampant poverty with a vision for far reaching systemic change. This vision for social equality, democracy and peace was backed by a united, multiracial, working-class movement. The horrific attacks on Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement, and the attempts to diminish their real history, demonstrate not only the power of this movement, but also just how much this movement scared right-wing business interests.

For 21 years, Detroit’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally has carried on the real, revolutionary life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and continues to inspire unity among those who work to make his dream a reality.

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Drew Bradley
Drew Bradley

Drew Bradley writes from Detroit, Michigan.