Speakers at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day forum at the National Action Network in Harlem acknowledged this year’s event had a special poignancy as it presaged Donald Trump taking office on Friday with a Republican majority in the House and Senate.
Several hundred people gathered to hear words from more than a dozen politicians concerning departing President Barack Obama and exhortations to keep up the fight for civil rights and social justice.
The meeting was a combination rally, revival, support group and brainstorming session.
The path to social justice has been “made worse, harder and steeper” by the election, acknowledged Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The Senate minority leader promised to rally opposition to the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general (“he does not deserve to be AG”) and do his best to thwart the gutting of Obamacare.
Senate Democrats, he said, are “totally united and we’re picking up support on the other side. We have a really good chance of keeping Obamacare and the ACA (Affordable Care Act) because they (Republicans) don’t know what to replace it with,” Schumer said.
Schumer confided that he had consoled his daughters after the election by quoting The Shirelles song, “Mama Said” (“there’ll be days like this”), prompting laughter and yelled out lyrics.
Even if the federal government retreats on civil rights issues, “there is a lot we can do at the state level” to protect the rights of people here, said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, condemning Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew F. Puzder, as a businessman who built a fast food empire on a “wage theft model.”
Schneiderman cited King’s observation that “the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me: That’s pretty important.”
King also lobbied his jailers to join the civil rights movement by asking them how much they were paid, telling them they deserved more, and inviting them to march, Schneiderman continued.
“We have to be open to bringing them along with us,” he said of Trump voters.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “the way to beat Trump is to solve the homelessness crisis in NYC.” Stringer urged that thousands of vacant properties in NYC be given “back to the people. ... That sends a message to Donald Trump in Washington and to Ben Carson,” Trump’s nominee for housing secretary.
Stringer also urged that the city direct more money to female and minority owned businesses, which he said now make up only 4.8% of procurements issued through the city and led the crowd in a “no procurement, no peace!” chant.
King, who would have turned 88 this year, “would be telling us not to be cowed or disempowered,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, adding, “he would be telling us to fight!”
King’s spirit is epitomized “in one of our greatest Americans — Congressman John Lewis,” who Trump recently insulted on Twitter, prompting some Democrats, including newly elected Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who also spoke yesterday, to boycott the inauguration in solidarity.
De Blasio exhorted people with a quote from Corinthians: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, the founder of NAN, vowed that his followers would not budge on voting rights, health care, economic justice and criminal justice reform. After earlier opening the event by suggesting everyone hug their neighbor to wish them “Happy King Day,” he jocularly noted that many politicians seemed to be ministering to the emotional and spiritual needs of attendees.
“There’s a lot of preaching going on here,” observed Sharpton. “Maybe I ought to run for office since they’re all taking my job!” Sharpton said.