Becky Rafter: Reflections on the March on Washington
Several Georgia WAND members attended the 50th anniversary March on Washington in DC last weekend as part of a three-bus caravan coordinated by the Coalition for the People’s Agenda. When we arrived, we met up and marched with folks from national WAND, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now! and the League of Women Voters of Georgia.
The Dream Unrealized, GA
For me, the trip strongly underscored the connection between the demands of marchers and the work of Georgia WAND. In 1963, Dr. King spoke of violence, racial injustice and economic injustice from the perspective of growing up in segregated Georgia. When we look at Georgia today, we know we still have a long way to go to fulfill King’s and our own collective dream.
There are many obstacles in realizing King’s dream in Georgia: the gap between the rich and the poor is higher in Atlanta than any other city in the United States; and worker’s rights are constantly under attack—causing hardships for fiscal ascent. Georgia imprisons African Americans at a rate three times higher than white people. Our state is home to Stewart Detention Center, which is the largest immigration detention facility in the country, according to the ACLU of Georgia. It is also one of the largest privately-owned prisons in the US, thus profiting from increased numbers of people arrested and held in the facility. Georgia has also passed Arizona copycat legislation against immigrants.
In addition, Georgia’s General Assembly is relentless in its attempts to break down women’s reproductive health. According to SPARK! Reproductive Justice NOW, as extremist conservatives are losing federal battles, local fights are gaining ground. Governor Deal recently authorized a ban on abortion coverage in health plans for state employees; including social workers, teachers, administrators and other public servants. Governor Deal is also thwarting the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia, which will make it hard for people to afford health insurance even though they qualify for the subsidies. And the stripping of section 4 of the Voting Rights Act only worsens the problem of voter hardships that occur routinely throughout Georgia.
Connecting the Dots
We marched in Washington because we reflect Dr. King’s dream in our work at Georgia WAND. He coined the term “environmental justice” to point out the racism and classicism are inherent in decision-making behind locating toxic waste industries. We continue to work in his legacy for environmental justice through a robust state-wide program with multiple components. Park of this work is with communities impacted by nuclear sites. We know that the injustices that result from these sites span far more than just contamination. A critical place where Georgia WAND addresses environmental racism is Burke County, GA, the home of nuclear Plant Vogtle. It’s also situated just across the South Carolina border from the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons facility. Key statistics from Burke County reveal the affect of the nuclear industry on its population, which is 49% African American. A shuttering 28.6% of its residents live below the poverty level. And the unemployment rate sits at 11.1%; compared to 8.3% in the rest of Georgia and 7.4% averaged nationally, it is clear that many of Burke County’s residents are in crisis. Where are the jobs? is a demand from Georgia WAND members in the area.
Another front of struggle for racial and economic justice that Georgia WAND addresses includes war, drones and nuclear weapons policy. We work against militarism and violence so that we can meet social and environmental needs in the legacy of March organizer Bayard Rustin, who was also an anti-war activist and worked with the War Resisters League. His training in nonviolent civil disobedience brought him to the south to work with The Southern Christian Leadership Council and Dr. King, for whom he became a close advisor. We recently posted a position on Syria and drone warfare. We educate the public, including our Congressional delegation, about nuclear weapons policies and the pentagon budget; and we continue Standing for Peace every Friday in front of Colony Square.
Lastly, Georgia WAND addresses the need for greater involvement and leadership of women, people of color, immigrants and young people in the political process. We work in the legacy of all those who marched in 1963, who rode, registered, spoke out and even died for voting rights throughout the South, so that everyone could be involved in the political process. Currently, our statewide work includes voter registration, education, mobilization and leadership development and is comprised three workgroups: WeCount! East Georgia Workgroup: Georgia WAND and Coalition for the People’s Agenda are teaming up to provide voter education and voter registration events in the Central Savannah River Area; WeCount! Women Vote Workgroup: Georgia WAND, 9 to 5 Atlanta Working Women, Planned Parenthood Southeast Region and the League of Women Voters of Georgia are teaming up to raise women’s voices in the 2014 elections!; and WeCount! Voting Rights Workgroup: Georgia WAND, Coalition for the People’s Agenda and other Atlanta-based groups are working together to collectively address issues related to our state’s decreasing voter rights, including election board precinct reduction, voter identification changes, racial discrimination tactics and other roadblocks.
Please support Georgia WAND’s efforts as we continue to do our part to building a collective dream in Georgia, work intentionally for racial justice and striving toward, as Bayard Rustin said it, “social peace through social justice”. Continue to stay informed about ways Georgia WAND is taking action and how you can plug in.