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MLK Day in Birmingham, saying no to war and poverty

By Jenae Stainer and Laura Langley |
January 20, 2010
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March in Birmingham, Alabama for MLK Day 2010
March in Birmingham, Alabama for MLK Day 2010 (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Birmingham, AL - On Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, dozens of people gathered here to participate in the Solidarity March with the Birmingham Homeless Coalition and Birmingham Peace Project. Under the banner of, Breaking the Silence: Perpetual War=Perpetual Poverty, protesters spoke out against the war and for affordable housing and fair wages. Marchers began in Linn Park downtown and continued on to the Greater Birmingham Ministry. There, several speakers took the stage, including Rodney Cole, videographer of police harassment and violence towards the homeless; Sarah White, union organizer and human rights activist and Rosa Clemente, community organizer, hip hop activist and former Green Party vice-presidential candidate.

Tuscaloosa's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society traveled to the Birmingham rally. They spoke and handed out flyers about the unionizing of their campus bus drivers. The union, ATU Local 1208, is fighting for a living wage and benefits from the multinational British corporation that employs them. This corporation, FirstGroup PLC, has a contract with the University of Alabama and is refusing to negotiate with the workers. The students urged the rally attendees to call the president of their university to demand fair pay for the bus drivers.

As the march made its way through downtown Birmingham, the marchers, primarily people of color and many homeless, chanted, "Feed the poor! Stop the war!" and "One, two, three, four - we don't need no rich man's war!" Signs held by the marchers demanded that the government "Stop taking from the poor to give to the rich," and, "All war is against the poor."

Victor Beard of the Coalition for the Homeless stated, "It's about time that people got together to make some noise about what’s been hidden from society. We have 30,000 living in poverty here in Jefferson County and 25,000 homeless, while all around we see vacant houses, vacant buildings and vacant hearts."

Sarah White of the Mississippi Worker's Center for Human Rights delivered an inspiring speech, describing her experience at a catfish processing factory. 95% of the factory workers were Black women; they were being subject to long hours in a strict work environment, as well as many instances of harassment. White took part in unionizing her fellow workers, who have since been experiencing a vastly improved work environment. She concluded her speech by saying "We can overcome anything, just lock hands."

As Rosa Clemente, the event's final speaker, took the stage, she said "Free the land down here," in a tribute to the struggle for self-determination of African Americans in the south. She said after the event that the significance of the event being held in Birmingham was great. "The history down here is amazing. It is home to the first modern-day struggles for civil rights that were covered by the media. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have spoken to the people I spoke to today. This is the best place to be today."

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