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A Dream Delivered: Raise the Wage

Yesterday, America celebrated 50 years of progress towards equality since Dr. Martin Luther King delivered Jr. his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. But what did equality mean to King?

Three weeks before Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he spoke for strikers in Memphis about genuine equality:

“Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

Today, I want to reflect on the cause of the March on Washington – for Jobs and freedom – for which march organizers alongside Dr. King like Bayard Rustin called for immediate action towards King’s genuine equality: “We demand that there be an increase in the national minimum wage so that men may live in dignity.”

Genuine equality & dignity in work. Is that a dream we can help deliver in South Dakota today?

As far as I know, Dr. King never visited South Dakota. He never saw our wind-blown prairie, our rolling clouds roaming our endless blue skies, or our beautiful Black Hills with its monuments to Crazy Horse and America’s founding fathers. But I’m sure he’d recognize the modesty of our unassuming family farmers, the unfailing work ethic of our teachers and our welders, the pride of our tribal members in Indian country. And yes, I think he’d also recognize the unease betraying the sunny smiles of South Dakota’s moms holding two low wage jobs to make ends meet or the anguish that comes to good dads who work hard, play by the rules, but just can’t get ahead.

If Dr. King visited today, he might call for a March on Pierre for Jobs and Freedom.

Indeed, at the time of King’s March on Washington, the minimum wage was $8.37 an hour when adjusted for the rising cost of living, a full dollar and 12 cents higher than today’s rate of $7.25 an hour. Even South Dakotans in the lowest cost-of-living county in America say they can’t make ends meet with the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That is unacceptable.

That’s why the South Dakota Democratic Party is proud to continue Dr. King’s efforts for genuine equality by advocating for an initiated measure to raise the minimum wage.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom recognized that the freedom our founding fathers fought for is limited by low wages, and raising the minimum wage can provide a pathway out of poverty towards the “freedom from want” that FDR spoke of and to which our very own Senator George McGovern dedicated his life.

It’s time to deliver on part of the dream that King and so many others stood up for 50 years ago in Washington. We’ll march across South Dakota – going door to door, standing in front of courthouses and post offices, and passing along petitions among friends at coffee shops and family at the dinner table.

But we can’t do it unless we march together. As President Obama reminded us on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.” Be a part of our effort. Learn more about how you can help at http://www.sddp.org/minimumwage/ or request a petition right away at http://www.sddp.org/minimumwagepetition/

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, let us commit ourselves to “genuine equality”: economic opportunity and the freedom it provides working South Dakotans by raising the minimum wage.

Let us recognize this anniversary as the year we marched for a “dream delivered.”

– Zach Crago
Interim Executive Director, SDDP