This weekend marks two key dates in the struggle for social and economic justice: the 78th anniversary of the birth of Cesar Chavez and the 37th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Each understood the essential link between the struggles for equality, for political rights, for labor and economic rights, and against war — and expressed that understanding throughout their life work.

Though the two never met, they supported each other. “We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized,” Dr. King wired Chavez during the latter’s 25-day fast in March 1968. “The spirit doesn’t die. The ideas remain, and they’re alive,” Chavez said on learning of King’s assassination.

The legacy the two have left us is more relevant today than ever.

Each understood the consequences of U.S. wars of aggression.

“It is now clear to me that the war in Vietnam is gutting the soul of our nation,” Chavez wrote to the Chicano Moratorium Committee in 1970. At Riverside Church in April 1967, Dr. King said, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation.”

It is not hard to imagine what they would think about two years of war and occupation in Iraq, based on lies and resulting in terror and chaos.

Despite the great achievements of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the right to vote is today under challenge from the systematic disenfranchisement of millions of working-class voters, especially among African Americans, Latinos and other racially and nationally oppressed peoples. And the gap between rich and poor is greater today than ever as a rogue administration seeks to enrich a tiny fraction at the expense of ordinary people, including the most destitute.

These two leaders are calling out to us today: End the war and occupation! Bring the troops home now! Use resources for human needs, not war! And uphold the right to vote!

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