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2017 Durham Unity March and Rally for MLK Day

January 16, 2017
2017 Durham Unity March and Rally for MLK Day

Durham Unity March and Rally

January 16, 2017

Rep. David Price

Welcome to Durham’s noontime Martin Luther King birthday observance, for many of us the high point of a very long weekend!

I’ve been looking back over the thoughts I’ve offered on this occasion in years past, and they often open a window onto what was on our hearts and minds at the time. One year it was the devastation of an earthquake in Haiti; on another it was the horrific mass shootings in Tucson; yet another the greatest economic downturn since the great depression. And then there were the marches I missed, among the most joyous ones, because we were inaugurating Barack Obama for his first and second terms as president of the United States!

This year prompts that kind of historical reflection, because most of us sense that our country is at a major historical juncture, and we look ahead with a mixture of radical uncertainty and great foreboding.

Of course, we also look back, with enormous gratitude and respect, at the historic presidency of Barack Obama. As the Obamas depart, we realize how much we will miss the dignity, integrity, intelligence, and inspiration with which they have graced us, and we realize how much we are in the President’s debt for pulling us out of that great recession; for steady  job growth, more recently coupled with significant wage growth; for taking on the challenge of making health coverage and health care available to tens of millions of Americans who were priced out of the market or couldn’t get coverage at all; and for major advances on the international stage: openings to Cuba and Burma, preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, forging a major agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening NATO and our other critical alliances. We have much to be grateful for.

Our appreciation is tinged with anxiety, however, because we are about to inaugurate a president who has promised to dismantle much of what we have achieved.  He started by making political capital of a racist lie concerning the president himself—his place of birth-and at this moment he is attacking and belittling John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement. This continues a pattern of polarization and division, playing on prejudice and hatred, placing our country in turmoil. We have good reason to be apprehensive about what lies ahead.

And we have every reason to value and draw upon this Martin Luther King observance, perhaps more than we ever have before. This is always a time of reflection and rededication, of gathering our strength, of appreciating the fact that we are stronger together, of preparing for the battles ahead.

I saw a lot of that yesterday in Raleigh at the Day of Action to protect health care.  It is entirely appropriate that this national mobilization took place on the eve of the King observance. As is so often the case, King’ swords speak to us as if he were in our midst: “Of all the forms of inequality,” he said in 1966, “injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Yes, it is “shocking and inhumane” that North Carolina has still not expanded Medicaid, denying 500,000 of our fellow citizens the coverage the ACA makes available for them—a situation Governor Cooper is desperately trying to rectify. And it is “shocking and inhumane” that the leadership of Congress last week took the first step towards denying coverage to some 22 million enrolled through ACA’s insurance exchanges—on a path to repeal with no replacement worthy of the name in sight.

So the fight is joined: this is the first of many battles on many fronts. Let us use this day to be grateful for those on whose shoulders we stand, to reaffirm our deepest convictions and the kind of community we wish to be, and to resolve to act to realize that vision and to rebuke those who wish to divide us or take us back. That is what Martin Luther King Day is about—it is what it must be about this year—and we need this observance, and each other, more than ever.