Fifty years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of Americans joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The March was during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and helped to pass landmark legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ensuring critical freedoms and protections for all Americans. Fifty years later, many of these freedoms and protections are still under attack.
This week, Americans will once again travel to Washington from all over the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March.
Ironically, the timing of the 50th anniversary could not have come at a more relevant point, as many people are still healing in light of the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision, the Zimmerman verdict, Congress voting for the 40th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and other headlines that have made us question what justice truly means. And with our health care rights constantly under attack by legislators who put politics and money before science and common good, this year’s March on Washington will be a special time to renew the work of the Civil Rights Movement and encourage Americans to take stock of our most valuable civil right— our right to vote.
An individual’s right to vote is the intersection we pass through toward the right to better health care, the right to equal pay, the right to equal opportunity, and more. By exercising our constitutional right to vote, we elect those leaders who advocate for better health care, better schools and better community services. But when that fundamental right is revoked through restrictive laws, our access to quality health care and community services is at stake.
As we honor the legacy of the March on Washington, let’s use this moment to reignite the collaboration and intersectional work of so many organizations that continue to defend the rights of Americans. In North Carolina on Moral Mondays, Planned Parenthood supporters joined the NAACP and other progressive organizations to protest against their state lawmakers’ extreme agenda that would impact women and minorities. And in Florida, the young people of the Dream Defenders staged sit-ins to challenge Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in light of the Trayvon Martin case. And, of course, the thousands of women and men who flocked to the Texas state capitol last month as politicians unfairly passed legislation that limits women’s access to quality health care were not just Planned Parenthood supporters but Americans of all ages and races who understand how fundamental this work is to ensure equal opportunity.
These recent movements provide hope and unite us as we march with common hopes for justice. That’s why Planned Parenthood is proud to join our allies in not only commemorating the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, but to also continue the work. As the nation’s leading women’s health care provider and advocate, we honor the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement by empowering women and men of all ages, races and walks of life to reach for their fullest potential.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech, “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” we too must still have that dream. Together as others have before us, we can turn our moral outrage into the strength and power we hold as change agents, pressing forward toward the American Dream.
Alexis McGill Johnson is the chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.