Fighting for a dream still unfulfilled

The shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. looms large over inaugural weekend. The holiday celebrating Dr. King happens to coincide with Inauguration Day. A new King memorial resides on the Tidal Basin on the opposing side of the National Mall from the spot where the 44th President will take the oath of office on King’s own Bible.

The Inauguration takes place of course in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. The residents of the majority-black District aren’t living the full-color version of King’s dream. The District’s license plates say, “Taxation without Representation,” and for many, obtaining statehood for DC is a campaign for full citizenship. “We have been a colony of the rest of the states of this country,” said a speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Walk, which celebrated the civil rights hero on January 19. “We need to become a state, the state of New Columbia.”

Statehood wasn’t the only thing on the minds of marchers remembering Dr. King. The event kicked off in Anacostia, an area of Southeast DC which suffers significant social and economic problems. With high unemployment, half of all its residents collect food assistance, and household income and wealth stagnate at the bottom of the pile in a city that ranks as one of the highest in wealth inequality.

It perpetually competes for resources. For example, the community is resisting the proposed closure of 15 schools in the District, which they claim disproportionately affects black residents.

Another speaker decried that, while the declining violent crime rate was a good trend, 88 murders in the District in 2012 “is still too many.” Several others assailed the high incarceration rate of young black men–one in three black men will do time in their lifetimes–as a devastating indicator of racial inequality.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Let us be dissatisfied.” Black communities like Anacostia are communities is distress, not because of the moral failings of individuals or certain cultures, as conservatives claim. It’s because the structural edifice of our society remains racist.

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Highway Occupiers arrested in Georgia

Two members of a small band of Occupy marchers were arrested this morning in Madison County, Georgia when they refused to give identification to police officers. Sarah Handyside and Garth Kiser were arrested and released without charges today in what may have been police harassment. A mountain of phone calls from supporters around the country assisted in their release.

The highway Occupiers, or Walkupiers as they call themselves, set off from Washington, DC on December 4 and have been making their way to Atlanta, Georgia.

Soon after the marchers set off this morning in Hull, Georgia, they ran into trouble with police. After taking too long to cross a main road, two cops claimed they had received a complaint that the hikers were holding up traffic and making a disturbance. They requested ID, but most of their IDs were in their packs being transported by a support vehicle.

Two members refused to give their names citing lack of probable cause, and they were immediately arrested. The rest of the group warned the officers about bad publicity, but they probably had no idea what they were in for. The arresting officer’s badge number and sheriff’s phone number were immediately posted on Facebook.

“It was probably the quickest experience anyone has had in a jail so far,” said Paul Sylvester, an Iraq war veteran who joined the march in Raleigh. “Garth said the phone was ringing off the hook. There were 50 calls within 20 minutes.”

Handyside and Kiser vowed to hunger strike until release, and their friends joined them in solidarity. But their stay in jail was short. They were released by 7pm without charges. Sylvester credits all the phone calls by supporters.

Walkupiers have been arrested before on this journey in Raleigh and Charlotte. Sylvester said that they often resist when they feel they encounter injustice. “It may seem like it’s not worth standing up for,” he said. “But it’s such an inspiration to a lot of people, and it brings us closer to communities.”

The marchers are taking a day off tomorrow to recuperate in Athens, Georgia. When they set off the following day, they will have a new addition, a three-time Afghanistan war veteran and medic.

They had originally planned to reach Atlanta on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but now expect to get there by January 28 or 29.

Sylvester said he had good feelings about approaching Atlanta but was more excited about the possibility of continuing on to New Orleans. They’re working out the details now for extending the march.