April 10, 2008

Lowery urges union to 'take our country back'

Source: RA 2008
Caption: From left, Shanker Award winner Joseph E. Lowery, NYSUT officers Dick Iannuzzi and Alan Lubin, and Eadie Shanker. At right, NYSUT officer Robin Rapaport listens to Lowery's speech.

On Thursday night, the footfalls of civil rights activist Joseph E. Lowery, who led the watershed right-to-vote march from Selma to Montgomery 48 years ago, brought him to New York City. Here, he urged unionists to be "chaplains of common good" to keep "on the move" for justice.

"'On the move' means higher and harder toward goals of justice and equity," said Lowery just before accepting the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service, the union's highest honor.

Lowery said it was an "honor beyond description" to receive the Shanker award, presented to him at the convention's opening session.

Noting that it is the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. this year, Lowery said it is a good time to renew the commitment to justice.

Perhaps then, as now, he said, "those of us committed to good were not enough 'on the move.'"

People may be "children of light," but they can be too complacent and too satisfied, he noted.

Lowery implored the delegates to "take our country back." This country has been mischaracterized as a predator, sends "smart bombs on dumb missions" and spends "millions on death and destruction while millions go without health care," he said to thunderous applause.

He said this presidential election has moved beyond restrictions of gender and race. "We're all tied together in a bundle of inter-relatedness," he said, asking people to "put aside foolishness based on trivialities."

While Africa may be the fatherland, America is the motherland, he said, "and I'm going to milk mama and squeeze mama until mama belches up justice all over the body politic."

How is it, he asked, that the rich get richer and "have more than they will ever need," while the poor get poorer and "masses of people have less than they always need?"

CEOs make 300 to 500 times the pay of the average worker, he said — but "worse than that, there's no outrage."

A lot of people get confused on equality, Lowery said, "but not so on equity. Equity has dollar signs."

"We must have a revival of spiritualism in this country," he said.

In 2004 he was honored at the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame, and he has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP. His record for rights dates back decades. In 1957, with Martin Luther King Jr., he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he served as president for 25 years. Now, he serves with the Coalition of People's Agenda where, he said, "We do together what none of us can do individually."

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