The issues were jobs, justice and education. The theme was unity.

As Americans of different races, genders, age and religion took turns reciting parts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the theme of the “One Nation Working Together” rally in Washington, D.C. became clear. Americans would have to unite to overcome the country’s problems.

ONE NATION—From left: Wealthy Blankeney, Gwendolyn West-Sutton and Charon Bonds from the Philadelphia SEIU and Philadelphia branch of the NAACP cheer on the speakers at the rally in Washington, D.C. (Photo by J.L. Martello).

“Dr. King loved this nation. He saw that this great nation should not be allowed to perish. This rally here today is America’s wake up call,” said entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, who marched with Dr. King. “We must awaken the apathetic Americans. Americans know that Dr. King’s dream is not dead.”

Finding solutions to those problems would prove a much harder task as national political, religious, and activist leaders addressed the protesters at the rally in Washington, D.C. Oct. 2. While some proposed broad, sweeping plans and fewer shared more specific solutions, many only rehashed the suffering many Americans experience personally every day, eliciting raucous cheers from the audience.

“We need America to deal with the issue of jobs. Our young people need education, but we need jobs,” said Rev. Al Sharpton. “We bailed out the banks. We bailed out the insurance companies. Now it’s time to bail out the American people. We need to rebuild the infrastructure and provide jobs and training for American people.”

Perhaps the most concrete directive given by the speakers was to go home and vote Nov. 2. In light of the anti-Republican rhet­oric and liberal and moderate leanings of most speakers and attendees, it was clear the message was to vote Democrat.

“I was amazed as I stood at the podium before 175,000 people on 10.2.10. I was overwhelmed to see the incredible swell of support for education, for jobs, and for justice,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. “I was also sobered, however, by the reality—that we still have a lot of work to do to bring that momentum from Washington (D.C.) to every state and every corner of the country on Election Day—11.2.10. Jobs, justice and education are the common threads that tie us together, and I have no doubt that they will persevere come Election Day.”

Improvements to education were seen as the solutions to much of America’s ailments, serving as the impetus to reduce unemployment by better preparing the nation’s children to help them compete in the global job market. However, there was less consensus on what should be done with many disagreeing on how to ensure teacher quality and others continuing the debate over public schools versus charter schools.

“The greatest threat to America’s national security comes from no enemy without, but from our failure to invest in and educate all of our children. A majority of children of all racial and income groups and over 80 percent of Black and Hispanic children cannot read or compute at grade level in fourth, eighth or 12th grade, if they have not already dropped out,” said Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Any nation that is failing to prepare all of its children for productive work and life is jeopardizing everything and needs to correct that course right now. And all of us—all of us, parents, educators, community and religious and political leaders—need to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. God did not make two classes of children. Every single one deserves a quality education.”

For jobs shortages, the government was criticized for sending jobs overseas. Several critics said funds for job growth could be found if the government stopped investing in wars overseas.

“Too many people are hurting. Without good jobs to support our families, our nation cannot recover,” said Urban League President Marc Morial. “We need a targeted jobs program to create 3 million jobs to build our streets and rebuild our cities. We are for economic empowerment for all. We are one nation working together.”

Other speakers ranged from actor Wendell Pierce and Rev. Jesse Jackson to Darlene Nipper from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and several college students from across the country. Also in atten­dance were comedian and ­activist Dick Gregory, and former NAACP board chair, Julian Bond.

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