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Part of a Movement: Today’s Civil Rights Battles

Each year we honor the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a passionate man who brought thousands together in a movement to achieve equality.  Dr. King and the civil rights movement paved the way for other segmented groups to fight for equality and fairness in America.  The spark lit by Dr. King lasted for decades as the feminist, gay liberation, and Chicano movements gained momentum throughout the 60s and 70s.   The twenty years following this robust period of protests and picket lines yielded little organized action or movement.

Recently, however, the model created by Dr. King and the civil rights movement has been resurrected and the power of protest is once again giving a common voice to the people.  Grassroots movements have sprung into action across the country, and the world, during the past year, so much so that TIME magazine named the protester the ‘Person of the Year’ in 2011. Issues ranging from economic inequality to voter rights have been subjects of concern and as we honor and remember the legacy of Martin Luther King, we examine the movements that have formed more than 40 years after his passing.

Many milestones were marked in 2011 for the LGBT equality movement as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell officially ended, New York state legally recognized gay marriage, and the Justice Department announced that they would no longer defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  Those fighting for equality continue to gain momentum and a foothold as one of the nation’s most active civil rights campaigns as they actively lobby to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act as well as push state initiatives as states including Maryland and Washington consider making gay marriage legal. The Human Rights Campaign has been a leading source of information for those interested in the movement.

In response to state laws passed in 2011, there are number of movements forming throughout the country as voter identification laws go into effect.  As highlighted by the Brennan Center for Justice, these laws, which require voters to present government certified photo identification before casting their ballot, isolate blacks, Hispanics, senior citizens, those with disabilities and the poor as these groups are less likely to have the necessary ID now required.   Additionally these laws, which were passed in Kansas, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Texas, have limited the number of early voting days and instituted stricter registration processes.  Civil rights groups, as well as minority and labor groups, have organized protests and demonstrations across the country to call attention to these laws and demand that the Department of Justice, which has already rejected a similar law in South Carolina, block the laws.  

Starting as a small protest late last summer, Occupy Wall Street has blossomed into an international phenomenon, bringing thousands of frustrated individuals together to voice their concerns about the economy, government, social inequality and the future of the United States and the world.  While this movement has generated a tremendous following and support over the last few months, it has struggled to present common goals or wants in order to accomplish from the movements.  A leaderless movement comprised of the 99%, a number of organizers have been instrumental in engaging support from key groups such as labor unions as well as obtaining order through general assembly meetings.  This movement may still be too young to pinpoint how their actions will impact the country, but similar movements in the past have launched the careers of many of today’s top civil rights leaders, and with protests planned for throughout the spring, we are sure to see this movement continue to develop and grow.   

As we reflect on and honor the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, we look toward an exciting time as movements committed to social causes and changes again become part of everyday culture.

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