Jan. 22, 2020 — Two weekend events in Florence commemorated the ongoing fight for social justice and civil rights in the U.S. One was a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in honor of his holiday, and the other, “Women Rising,” was the fourth Women’s March held in Florence.
The political polarization that is playing out on a national stage with the start of the U.S. Senate trial considering the impeachment of President Donald Trump was reflected in angry words spoken and signs of dissent held high at two public events this weekend.
Between the two events, hundreds of local residents were involved in Saturday’s call to action expressed at the Women’s March, along with the recognition of Dr. King during a special remembrance on Sunday.
The first Women’s March here, and across the nation, began in response to the election of Trump in 2016. National organizers and local participants made clear their disregard for the tone and agenda of the then-incoming president. Millions of people across the world have continued to show their displeasure with the current federal administration by marching in a January protest each year since.
In Florence, there were similarities between the two weekend events as organizers and featured speakers recalled historical struggles for the right to vote and the imperative of racial equality. More deeply, they spoke about a shared sense that in order to fulfill the nation’s destiny as a country, society must lift all and denigrate none.
Both rallies presented the thoughts of civil justice leaders over time as seen through a lens of current threats to voting and privacy rights. This made the tone of the speeches delivered this year stand in contrast to those of previous years.
While the Women Rising rally gave voice to those discussing the impeachment of the sitting president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, as well as the upcoming election, the tone was markedly different and more somber at the Dr. King event.
Sponsored by the Bahá’ís of Florence and held at the Siuslaw Public Library, the gathering expressed disappointment rather than frustration over the feeling that the country has strayed so far from what many in attendance perceived to be America’s place as a leader in the worldwide struggle for social justice for all — everywhere.
King was only 39 years old when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He had spent the previous decade engaged in a struggle to help his fellow African American citizens achieve the most basic of human rights, foremost of which was the right to vote and the opportunity to work and raise a family in peace. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work to solidify racial equality.
For many years, King insisted that non-violence was the path to achieving the civil right movement’s goals, although King was killed before he saw the positive results his strategy had produced.
One of the most enduring testaments to the effectiveness of his work is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, observed the third Monday of January each year as a federal holiday that marks his birthday and legacy.
Locally, a full house turned out for the Florence recognition of King’s work. Titled “Healing the Divide: Service, Kindness, Compassion,” the remembrance was held in the Bromley Room and featured speakers, poetry, songs and readings from King’s speeches and sermons. In addition, Florence ORganizes (FOR) leader Maggie Bagon recapped the history of the Civil Rights Era.
Students also got involved. Tributes to the memory of King were given by high school student Ramiro Ramirez (see Page A4 of Siuslaw News) and his sister Isabella, who sang a “The Truth Untold.” Local vocalist Nyah Vollmar also performed, this time singing her own song, “Thousand Wishes.”
“Nyah’s song lyrics to slip away from the hating and letting our visions become our missions filled my old heart with hope for a better future,” said Suzanne Mann-Heintz, one of the organizers for the event.
The presentations during the event highlighted opportunities to continue the work begun by King nationally in the local community.
Suzanne Mann-Heintz said she was pleased with both the strong turnout for the remembrance and the recognition that all people can contribute to the effort to further social justice in many areas of life.
“I, too, believe social justice issues are a hallmark in these divisive times. I’m an ‘All for one and one for all’ kind of woman,” Mann-Heintz said. “It was heartening to hear that message repeated over and over in diverse ways.”