Public officials and dignitaries representing Denver and Colorado at the annual MLK Marade honored Dr. King with stories about him and reminded the crowd to take inspiration from his work. But the speeches on this cold snowy day reflected a new urgency to work together and a concern that progress that has been made may be at risk.
Mayor Michael Hancock told the marchers that Dr. King was asked on several occasions to lead a movement that would bring equal rights to Black Americans. His initial response: “I can’t, I have a young family to care for.” But upon reflection he concluded, “Why not me? Maybe this is my calling.”
“In America in 2017,” said Hancock, “a lot of people are questioning the direction of our nation—where we have a president who’d rather tweet out than to offer a hand of hope and unity. Now more than ever, every one of us in this country, must ask ourselves the question, Why not me?”
Congresswoman Diana DeGette reminded the assembled crowd that we’ve come a long way since Dr. King and John Lewis marched in Selma. “We have expanded voting rights. We let immigrants in this country.” But, she warned, “Unless we march today all of that may be in jeopardy. To keep the freedoms and human rights Dr. King talked about, we have to be vigilant today and every day going forward. So many of these things we take for granted are at risk. Our ability to go and vote. Immigrants’ ability to come have a safe and fulfilled life in this country. Women’s ability to have equal rights to get health care. All these things are at risk. We are here today to say we won’t let that happen.”
As Senator Michael Bennet put it, “The single most powerful word in our democracy is ‘we.’ We shall overcome.”
The crowd responded to Lt. Governor Donna Lynne with loud cheering and clapping when she said, “We have a fight in Colorado that we’re going to lead. Our congressional delegation is hopefully going to stand up for the Affordable Care Act. It has created tremendous benefit to Colorado. We’re going to lead a fight here in honor of Dr. King and his message of equity and equality. We are going to fight as hard as it takes.”
Governor Hickenlooper reminded attendees that prior marches have led to change and cited the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act as examples. “We need to live as he lived and to act. Health care and education, along with basic civil rights are the key issues going forward.”
Former Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma started the MLK event in Denver in 1980. The former mayor mixed a little humor in his advice to young activists. “You have to go where the power is to do what is necessary to make a change. You don’t go to 7/11 to get a stop sign. You have to go to the right place if you’re going to win the struggle. We have to fight for immigrant families. We can’t separate children from their mothers and fathers. We all have to work together for unity of purpose.
“What I’m saying to you here with this non-legit guy getting sworn in, he said he’s going to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. What are you building a wall for? Hispanics are digging tunnels. If you’re going to build a wall who’s going to do it? They know how to do that work. I know this crowd…you all ain’t building no wall.
“So we have to be realistic about what we’re for, who we’re for and who we’re against. This ain’t rocket science. If they support you, you fight together because we’re stronger united.”
Wilma Webb told the crowd that they need to be united, as the civil rights movement was. They must have respect for each other and follow four essential steps: First identify the injustice. Second, confront the body doing wrong. Third, purify your own heart to do what’s right, not what’s expedient or gets you attention or causes the problem to be worse. Fourth, have a righteous remedy. “You can’t walk with no kind of goal or program. If you don’t, all you have is a walk for nothing.”
Looking ahead, she says health care will be an issue.”As soon as it comes up, we better be out there. Everyone should have a right to see a doctor. Dr. King would be proud of us.”