While many amongst us may grow weary in this time of economic crisis, political stagnation, and a resurgent radical right-wing movement bent on turning back the 20th century, we would all do well to look at other times of social crisis in American history which led to huge advances for social, racial, and economic justice.
It has been my honor, privilege, and joy to review some of that history this week in speeches and workshops for the leaders of the National Organization of Legal Service Workers affiliated with the United Automobile Workers in Las Vegas.
In my workshops on Mobilization and Coalition building, I’ve had the privilege of reminding these brilliant leaders of the UAW of some of the UAW’s rich history and vigorous struggle for social justice for all Americans.
The UAW not only marched with Dr. King and my brother Rev. James Orange in the civil rights movement of the 1950′s and 1960′s, but funded much of it as well. Walter Reuther the founder and president of the UAW was routinely and often red baited and accused of being a socialist, because this was the period of McCarthyism and right-wing control of the American government.
Without the UAW, the 1963 March on Washington led by A. Philip Randolph would likely not have happened, and Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech may never have been heard.
Though most of us don’t know this, the organizer of that march was A. Philip Randolph’s assistant Bayard Rustin, a gay African American.
And, surely without Walter Reuther and the UAW, President Johnson would not have been able to pass Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty.
Our American history is full of folks like you and me who in times of despair refused to weaken or give in or give up.
That is why the tattoo on my right shoulder is a quote from Bruce Springsteen, “No Retreat No Surrender.”