Out of 300 million Americans, a few thousand wield disproportionate economic and political influence because of their positions at the pinnacle of America’s corporate and media establishments or their roles as political allies (or puppets) of the corporate ruling class. C. Wright Mills described this group in his 1956 book, The Power Elite; G. William Domhoff has updated this analysis in his book, Who Rules America? (now in its seventh edition), and Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have described how the power elite wields its influence in Winner-Take-All Politics.
Many of them have overlapping memberships on the boards of the largest corporations, business lobby groups, universities and think tanks, foundations and media conglomerates. They are not part of a conspiracy. They do not meet secretly to plot America’s future. And they do disagree with each other on some issues,
Fifty years ago, just a year out of high school, I sat in my parents’ small living room engrossed by images on the flickering black and white TV screen. Something called the March on Washington was running live — the whole event, as I recall, which network television did in those days. I’m not sure why I was not at work or why I was alone in the house, but I remember that tears came to my eyes, just as they do now as I think back on that day.
My parents were originally from the South, but both grew up in Southern California. My mother had been born in Mississippi, moved to Texas and then Inglewood. My father came from Texas to La Crescenta. After they married and my father became a minister, Northern California was home, but the ethos of white superiority and other ethnic and class inferiorities were engrained.
This week we mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Few would argue about the importance of Dr. King in U.S. history and the decisive role he played in the civil rights movement. Soon after his death, a campaign began to have King’s birthday declared a national holiday. Over six million signatures were collected on a petition to Congress to pass such a law, in what has been called “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1986.
Fourteen years later, MLK Day was observed in all 50 U.S. states for the first time.
And in 2006, Greenville County, South Carolina became the last county in the U.S. to officially make MLK Day a paid holiday.
Growing numbers of private employers also consider MLK Day a holiday.
America has made progress on many fronts in the half-century since King electrified a crowd of 200,000 people, and millions of Americans watching on television, with his “I Have a Dream” address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But there is still much to do to achieve his vision of equality.
Fortunately, many Americans are involved in grass-roots movements that follow in his footsteps. King began his activism as a crusader against racial segregation, but he soon recognized that his battle was part of a much broader fight for a more humane society. Today, at age 84, King would no doubt still be on the front lines, lending his voice and his energy to major battles for justice.
Voting rights: Along with other civil rights leaders, King fought hard to dismantle Jim Crow laws that kept blacks from voting.
Congressman John Lewis is the only survivor among the ten speakers at the March on Washington, a turning point in the civil rights movement that occurred 50 years ago, on August 28, 1963. The march is most famous as the setting of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” oration, but Lewis’ speech that day, representing the movement’s radical youth wing, provided a different kind of call to arms. It is a message that Lewis has continued to voice as a movement activist and an elected official.
Only a handful of the 250,000 people at event – officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to reflect the link between economic justice and civil rights – knew anything about the drama taking place behind the Lincoln Memorial. Under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, the longtime civil rights and trade union leader, the march had brought together the major civil rights organizations as well as labor unions and religious denominations and women’s groups.