LOS ANGELES — Inspired by the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tens of thousands in California, Texas, and across the nation marched and rallied, calling for peace, social justice, and workers’ rights.

Thousands of African Americans and Latinos lined the route of the Jan. 17 King Day Parade through the heart of South Los Angeles, chanting “Save King/Drew!” The cheers saluted Rep. Maxine Waters who marched the entire three-mile route leading a float carrying King/Drew hospital medical staff and a contingent of community activists with placards, banners and buttons opposing the scheduled February closing of the public hospital’s trauma unit and possible closure of the entire hospital. King/Drew is the only major hospital for over 1.5 million people of color in South LA.

In San Antonio, Texas, more than 70,000 people, including many families with children, marched for three miles, with signs calling for peace, racial equality and social justice. A large banner with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe bore the slogan, “Guerra, no. Paz y justicia!” (No war. Peace and justice!). Many marchers held up handmade signs reading, “Military recruiters: Stay away from our kids!” and “Support the troops — Bring them home!”

Asked why the march has grown into a major city event, T.C. Calvert, 2005 King March Committee chairman, told reporters, “It has a lot to do with the issues — our biggest contingent is the peace groups.” Calvert participated in San Antonio’s first King anniversary event in 1978, when about 50 people rallied.

In Oakland, Calif., Rep. Barbara Lee electrified a crowd of over 500 with her declaration, “We must end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home, and rejoin the international community … we must eradicate poverty in America … we must remove the cancer of racism from our democracy!”

The triple evils of war, poverty and racism, identified by Dr. King, are the real “axes of evil,” Lee said. “Even some Republicans are coming to recognize the folly of this war in Iraq,” she said. Besides the needless deaths of over 1,300 U.S. servicemen and women and untold Iraqis including children, she added, wounded veterans are coming back with “unbelievable” injuries and lifetime disabilities.

“I’m a proud daughter of an honored soldier,” Lee said. “I honor the service that Americans are giving to our country. But this war is unnecessary, immoral and wrong!”

“Not with my vote!” she said of the administration’s plan to ask for $100 million more, on top of the $200 billion already spent on the war. “$200 billion that will never reach a student in the classrooms of our schools — $200 billion that will never be devoted to defeating the AIDS pandemic.”

In the Los Angeles march, the outpouring of support for Waters and other leaders of the struggle to maintain and restore King/Drew hospital’s services was a sharp rebuke of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles Times and the Joint Commission on Accreditations of Hospital Organizations, who incredibly blame Waters and other African American politicians and activists for deficiencies at the hospital.

That evening hundreds of African American, civil rights and labor leaders cheered Waters at the SCLC Los Angeles awards dinner, where her work on the King/Drew issue was awarded SCLC’s top Martin Luther King national award. She delivered a rousing keynote address calling for greater activism and sacrifice to “mend, not end” the hospital, bring all the troops home from Iraq, and confront America’s corporations on outsourcing jobs while receiving huge tax breaks.

The AFL-CIO made Los Angeles the national center of its commemoration of King’s 76th birthday, holding a five-day series of events here. Clayola Brown, vice president of UNITE-HERE, new president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and co-chair of the labor events, noted that it was the first such commemoration held outside the South in over 20 years. The choice of Los Angeles was due in part to the LA County Federation of Labor’s success “in forging a strong labor and civil rights agenda,” she said.

In panels, workshops, picket lines, and large breakfast and dinner meetings, hundreds of labor leaders and activists from across the nation examined successful strikes, organizing drives, contract struggles, and political action in Los Angles in recent years as examples for meeting the challenges of the second Bush administration.

William Lucy, AFSCME international secretary-treasurer and chair of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, told a Jan. 14 gathering of the LA County Federation the struggle for justice is international. Lucy condemned the U.S. occupation of Iraq, saying we are there “because of the oil under their soil.” The U.S. should focus on defending democracy at home in places like South Central Los Angeles, he said.

In her keynote address to the AFL-CIO’s Eye on the Prize awards dinner Jan. 15, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson said the most important rule in politics is “things can turn around much sooner than anyone can imagine … if we fight smart, and if we fight hard and if we fight creatively, and if we fight tough.”

Marilyn Bechtel and Roberto Botello contributed to this story.click here for Spanish text