All along the path from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, the stories were the same—parents out of work and children suffering from failing school systems.
|LOCAL ACTIVISTS—From left: Randall Taylor, Rick Adams and Sam Thompson Jr. on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial. (Photo by J.L. Martello).
“I haven’t worked in three years. People are losing their homes. If we don’t push the government, nothing is going to happen,” said Charles Towns, 62, of Gaithersburg, Md. “Too many of our liberties have been taken away. Just look at the past and what has been done to us. We’re all fighting over a little bit of what’s left. My family is struggling like hell.”
At the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, D.C. Oct. 2, activists from Pittsburgh joined others from across the country in calling for more jobs, better education and improvements to health care. The issues were nothing new, but the personal stories of struggling families revealed an America already united by a common thread.
“For me, I was marching for my mom. My mom hasn’t worked in two years and there’s four kids in the house,” said Jaheera White, a student at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and member of the university chapter of the NAACP. “She goes to unemployment constantly. She’s out there looking for jobs. I have a 6-year-old brother. She doesn’t want to eat so he has food.”
Fortunately White has been able to continue college and hopes to graduate and find a job that will allow her to give back to her family. However, like many graduating students, a college degree doesn’t always translate to a job due to the failing economy and scores of seasoned professionals also scrambling to find work.
The bleak job market, along with the increasing burden of student loan debt, was on the list of priorities for younger activists at the rally. Despite their dire outlook on life after graduation, many still saw the rally as a sign of hope.
“I’ve gone to smaller scale marches but it was just surreal today hearing the inspirational speeches,” said Zakiya Kingston, another student at UNC Greensboro and member of the NAACP. “This is epic, not just to be here in Washington, D.C. but to see all these people and especially the youth.”
The historical significance of the event was a highlight for many of the demonstrators as they listened to speeches given from the same steps Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from or held protest signs high on the banks of the reflecting pool.
“It was a wonderful event. I think the vibe of MLK was in the air. I think the One Nation event was very successful,” said Kimberly Carson, a member of the Pittsburgh Branch of the NAACP. “This is history in the making. Hopefully the Obama administration will get some positive feedback in knowing we care.”
Although the mission of the rally was to gain attention from President Barack Obama and other government representatives, many protesters agreed they would carry their momentum home to work toward reaching solutions in their own communities.
“This was a great experience, but it’s a very serious one. We have to go back and do serious work in our communities and the most important thing is to get out and vote,” said M. Gayle Moss, president of the Pittsburgh Branch of the NAACP. “We have to look at unemployment and most importantly education so that it stops being the pipeline to prison.”
Organizations in attendance included various branches of the NAACP and Urban League as well as several service workers unions. Pittsburgh was also represented by the Black Political Empowerment Project and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. There were five bus loads of people from Pittsburgh.
“We came to just support everyday Americans for jobs, for education and for health care,” said Juanita Hogan, PFT. “The message is unity and we have to come together to make a change. We can’t be divided by race.”