NEW YORK – On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous speech in Riverside Church here connecting U.S. aggression in Vietnam with the civil rights movement at home. Exactly 37 years later to the day, from the same pulpit, California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee – the lone congressperson to vote “no” on legislation giving President Bush unlimited powers of war in the wake of Sept. 11 – vowed to carry on Dr. King’s struggle up to and beyond defeating Bush in November.

“Dr. King spelled out, very clearly, the connections and the costs between war abroad and the price paid here at home. His words are as true today as they were almost four decades ago,” said Lee. “He said, ‘I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energy in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube.’ King increasingly saw the war as an enemy of the poor.”

Hundreds of people, including leaders of AFSCME District Council 1707, packed the lower sanctuary of Riverside Church for the program to celebrate the life of Dr. King. The turnout for the event, which the United New York Black Radical Congress, WBAI radio and the Riverside Church co-sponsored, was so large that fire marshals turned people away. April 4 is also the anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis in 1968.

Dr. Manning Marable, chair and co-founder of the Black Radical Congress, hosted the evening and introduced Dr. James A. Forbes Jr., senior minister at Riverside, and New York City Council members Bill Perkins, Charles Barron and Larry Seabrook. Each spoke about the crisis facing cities around the country. New York City suffers a crisis in education, health care and affordable housing, speakers noted, while $160 billion has already been spent on the war in Iraq, with no end in sight.

“In this city, we spend $7,000 a year to educate the children, and $70,000 a year to keep them in jail. That is a sin!” said Father Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

Rep. Lee told the crowd King’s words still resonate today, especially in light of Bush administration policy.

“I’m specifically talking about the coup in Haiti and the war in Iraq,” she said. “Our policies towards Haiti and Iraq are really manifestations of the Bush policy of pre-emption as a whole. … How many governments do they plan to overthrow? Is Venezuela next? How about Brazil? We know Cuba’s on the list.”

Organizers honored Lee with a plaque for “standing in the same vein as Dr. King stood for peace and justice when none of her colleagues were able to set emotions aside, as difficult as it must have been, and reflect on the ramifications of signing onto a wrong-headed, flawed piece of legislation giving this administration the authority to perpetrate its hidden agenda.”

Lee said, “The Republican majority wants us to go along or shut up … but I say to them, they are engaged in un-American activity by trying to stifle debate. We will not be silenced; we will not sit idly by while they do this to our country. We must continue to fight for democracy. The world is counting on us!”

She called for working “each and every day for regime change in Washington, D.C. – we’ve got to start with that!”

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org.
Gabe Falsetta contributed to this article.

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