On August 28, 1963, an Ohio River Valley native stood on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant leaders of many ethnicities, races, and ages.
They gathered to share their stories – and to call on our country to live up to its ideals.
Fifty-years ago, a young, red-haired auto-worker and labor organizer stood alongside Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., my good friend Rep. John Lewis, and others to address the crowd gathered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Walter P. Reuther’s story is familiar to many Midwestern families. He was raised to believe that people who work hard and play by the rules should have an opportunity to prosper.
He told the audience of day-laborers and skilled-trades workers, teachers and students, clergy and concerned citizens that “there is no half-way house to human freedom. What is needed in the present crisis is not half-way or half-hearted measures but action bold and adequate to square American democracy’s performance with its promise of full citizenship rights and equal opportunity for all Americans.”
The quest to secure good jobs, fair wages, and equality of opportunity united so many Americans in 1963.
Fifty-years later, Americans still fight for equality. Beyond commemorative events, including the Bloody Sunday March in Alabama I joined in 1998, we can remember our shared history while also working to address contemporary economic and social justice issues, including efforts to raise the minimum wage and stop threats against voting rights.
The labor and civil rights movements have been pivotal in ensuring all workers receive fair pay – and the resources needed to do their jobs well. With too many Americans working harder than ever and barely getting by, it’s past time to raise the minimum wage.
Recently, I visited four businesses throughout Ohio that support increasing the federal minimum wage. These businesses and their owners know that treating employees fairly isn’t just good for them; it’s also good for business.
That’s why I’m fighting to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and then provide for automatic annual increases linked to changes in the cost of living. The bill would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in 20 years. The tipped minimum wage currently stands at just $2.13 an hour. This bill would increase it to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.
Americans eager to join or re-join the workforce should also have access to good-paying jobs that are the foundation of our middle class.
And, of course, every American should have a voice in our democracy.
My mother, a native of Mansfield, Georgia who moved to my father’s hometown of Mansfield, Ohio was insistent that every human being be treated with dignity – and that no one is too busy or too important to serve.
In her 80s, she led voter registration drives on a card table outside the local grocery store and helped elect the first African-American mayor of Mansfield. I often think of her when we hear of new plots to limit access to the polls.
We should continue to encourage seniors, students, and all Americans to vote. However, restrictive voting requirements would have the opposite effect. That’s why I will continue to oppose efforts to curtail access to voting booths – especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.
As we celebrate one of the most famous acts of democracy in our nation’s history, let’s also keep an eye on the future.
History remembers the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom as the backdrop for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Address. The march – and the movement it nurtured – are so much more than a scene our many-chaptered American story; it’s a starting point for what we can achieve when we work together.