NEW YORK—About 10,000 protesters marched through the Wall Street financial district April 4 chanting “Money for health care not for war, that is what we’re marching for.”
It was the 42nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famed “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church April 4, 1967. Many banners and signs bore photos of Dr. King with the message “Beyond War, A New Economy is Possible. Yes We Can.”
The marchers assembled on Broadway above Canal Street and streamed down the avenue at noon led by a contingent of Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. “Hands off Afghanistan” “Fund Human Needs not War” and “Give Me A J-O-B so I can E-A-T” were some of the thousands of signs and placards.
Rose Taylor of Baltimore was one of many people in wheelchairs who rolled past the New York Stock Exchange. She was holding a sign that read, “We Need a People’s Bank.”
George Martin, a leader of United for Peace and Justice, sponsor of the march, told the World, “We must make the connection: almost a quarter of a trillion tax dollars are being spent each year on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 1,000 military bases around the world. Our government is bailing out the banks and not meeting the needs of our people.”
The march, he added, sends, “a strong message to the new administration and the new Congress. We need to move beyond war. A new economy is possible.”
Hospital Workers Local 1199 was Dr. King’s favorite union and hundreds of members of Local 1199 were waving bright yellow flags as they marched. Steve Thornton, a leader of SEIU Local 1199 in New Haven, led a chant, “Employee Free Choice Act, for sure, that is what we’re fighting for.”
Local 1199 was the first union to come out against the Vietnam War, Thornton told the World. “We are maintaining that activist, antiwar tradition. We’ve got a huge budget crisis in Connecticut fueled by a financial crisis we did not cause. Now we are being asked to pay for it. We say NO! Personally, I think we should nationalize these banks and put them under democratic control.”
Rylan Moore, a student seeking her Masters Degree in Social Work at the University of Connecticut was holding a placard that read, “Social Workers Support a Responsible Budget.”
She told the World, “Too much is spent on the military and not enough on social services that people need.”
Bobby Greenberg, a retired New York City schoolteacher was marching with the New York City Labor Chorus. He praised President Obama for allocating $115 billion for education. Obama has voiced support of charter schools and merit pay “but no one in education is turning against Obama on these issues. He wants the same things we want, good schools, educated children,” Greenberg said.
Obama met with union teachers and made clear that neither charter schools nor merit pay will be unilaterally forced on teachers.
The demonstration came a day after news that the jobless rate spiked last month to 8.5 percent despite hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts for banks and insurance companies. It also coincided with a NATO meeting in Europe where the subject was escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Throughout Europe and Canada, tens of thousands demonstrated against NATO occupation of Afghanistan.
Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, told the World, “Five years in Iraq is too long and the troops haven’t come home yet. Now we’re escalating the war in Afghanistan. That is not going to make our nation any safer or solve the problems there. It’s time to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
As he walked through the financial district, Don Bickford, a member of the Riverside Church congregation held a sign, “Riverside Church Christians for a Just Peace.” He told the World “We have a lot to accomplish to make real Dr. King’s vision as expressed in his Riverside Church speech.” Wall Street, he said, “is driven by greed.”
Before the march stepped off, the Rev. James Lawson, a close co-worker of Dr. King, recalled that one year after his “Beyond Vietnam,” speech, King was assassinated leading a struggle for union rights. “I was with Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee, together with the mostly Black workers who were treated indecently, deprived of a decent livelihood,” Lawson said.
He added, “In the spirit of Dr. King and the movement of equality and justice of the fifties and sixties, I say, if we want peace to blossom, we must eradicate poverty, racism, sexism, violence and greed in the United States…. The greatest impetus for peace or stimulus to the economy is that those 90 million (who hover in poverty) receive wages that would allow them to sustain themselves and their families.”