APRIL 4, 2011
What a day. Labor, community, and other activists joined in a national "Day of Action" to commemorate the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis while supporting the 1968 public sanitation workers' strike.
In the morning rumors spread like wildfire across the country that members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) had walked off the job at the Port of Oakland in a show of solidarity with Wisconsin workers. Calls to ILWU headquarters in San Francisco later confirmed the action.
Members of Bay Area Local 10 had also hoisted Wisconsin flags on the enormous cranes along the docks and flew them upside down as a distress signal. There were no other port shutdowns, but other ILWU locals on the west coast were also flying the Wisconsin flag.
The Port of Oakland shutdown was "just for the day," said Josh Williams, captain of the ILWU Local 10 drill team, which had come to Madison with five of its 16 team members for the Day of Action rally, headlined by Jesse Jackson. Standing proud with the ILWU banner at the State Street entrance to the Capitol just above where Jackson was speaking, they looked sharp in their black uniforms trimmed in yellow and their white longshore caps.
The crowd also enthusiastically greeted two men who had been part of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike that captured national attention when an assassin's bullet felled Dr. King. The strike is the subject of the 1993 award-winning documentary, At the River I Stand, now available for online viewing free through April 11 here.
It was a frigid, windy afternoon. Dark clouds loomed; a downpour seemed imminent as scattered raindrops started to fall. Wind-whipped rally signs bent and fluttered. The cold was piercing. Undaunted, Jackson rallied the crowd, urging them to lift their hands in a pledge of commitment to Dr. King's mission and sacrifice. Almost everyone raised a classic solidarity fist to the sky, as if in an act of defiance against the threatening storm—literally and figuratively. Jackson then led a heartfelt rendition of "We Shall Overcome," and as people sang the clouds parted, and the sun broke through.
Rallies and other actions were held throughout the U.S. (see below), each unique. The Madison event was also a get-out-the-vote push for the April 5 election. Among other important races is the contest for state Supreme Court Justice: David Prosser, the incumbent, backed by the GOP, Gov. Scott Walker, and the Koch Bros.' front group, Americans for Prosperity vs. challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, who has huge support from opponents of Walker's union busting and proposed budget cuts affecting children, the poor, seniors, the disabled, education, and the environment.
The event also featured music by local funk band VO5, singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked, and the firefighters' drum and bagpipe corps, which has become a crowd favorite at every rally in the last six weeks.
DAY OF ACTION HEADLINES
VIDEOS FROM MADISON
We Shall Overcome in Madison, April 4