by Derek Langhorn
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day march on Jan. 23 in downtown Bellingham was an event meant to not only remember King’s legacy, but to remember King’s lesser known message: the Poor People’s Campaign.
The Poor People’s Campaign was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last undertakings before he died. It revolved around gaining awareness of the plights of the poor, and demanding economic justice for impoverished people of all races, creeds, and backgrounds.
The Poor People’s Campaign remained incomplete after King’s death, and is now the social issue that the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march strives to bring to the forefront of social consciousness. To embody that idea, a woman held a sign during the march saying “support the poor, no more war.”
This year’s march started its course from Bellingham High School. Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community, a group which aims to maintain societal justice and healthy communities, was the lead speaker. Guillen spoke of the struggles of impoverished people, ending poverty, and undoing the barriers between class and race.
Whatcom students who attended the event spoke of King’s message of civil rights.
Maria Avilaratriningtyas said, “[his message] was important, it helped the minority people.” She added, “Martin Luther King was a great person. Without his contribution, it [the world] wouldn’t be the same.”
“It is very important in this diverse country, very important to help reduce the differences,” said Mursidin Amiruddin, another Whatcom student.
“I can convey this [King’s] message when I go back to my country,” said Ahmed Raza, a Whatcom student from Baluchistan, Pakistan. King’s message is an important one to use in his life, he said. He added that the march was a new experience for him and he said King, “brought positive change.”
Abdulilah Alharrah, student at Whatcom said, “we are moving towards equality” and “the world appreciates his message.” To Alharrah, King’s message is about equality. He said “it doesn’t matter what you have. Love the people, respect the people.”
“I want everyone to be equal,” said Whatcom student Yuduo Chen. Chen believes that society still has work to do, since he thinks that people will choose to be with people of their own ethnicity, rather than communicate with people who may be different. “We are all human beings. It is just skin,” he said.
“The march today represents the Poor People’s Campaign,” said Whatcom’s Service Learning Coordinator Meghan Rydell. She said the march was about “keeping the fight going, triggering a dialogue, and action.”
“What he fought for, it wasn’t just race, it was human rights and human rights advocacy,” Rydell said.
The march proceeded through the streets of downtown Bellingham, stopping at West Magnolia Street, where two musicians led the crowd in a sing-a-long rendition of “Down by the Riverside”
The group continued on toward Bellingham City Hall, where the Rev. Kent French, lead pastor at First Congregational Church spoke. French said to the crowd that he was glad that King’s message was still alive in the hearts and minds of young people and added that those people will bring society into a new age of equality.
The Kulshan Chorus then performed for the packed house inside city hall, singing gospel songs, as the audience clapped and joined in.
Deborra Garrett, the first female Washington state superior court judge spoke to the crowd, and said “the good fight has to continue, to see how far we have come.” She also said that society must be committed to equality.
The Mayor of Bellingham, Kelli Linville also spoke at the event.
For those in attendance, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march was not just about remembering the man and his message, but acting on that message. It was about service work and helping to stamp out social and economic oppression.