AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This weekend, in the shadow of the dedication ceremony for the King Memorial on the National Mall, there was a demonstration march over jobs and economic inequality.
As NPR's Allison Keyes reports, the debates over fixing the economy and solving the racial gaps in the unemployment rate still persists.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)
GROUP: What do we want? Jobs. When do we want them? Now...
ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: The sense of history here is tangible. A rally and march from the shadow of the Washington Monument to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, complete with a rainbow crowd that is mostly African-American.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)
GROUP: No justice. No peace. No justice. No peace...
KEYES: Activist Reverend Al Sharpton says his National Action Network organized the march because the nation has ignored the plight of the chronically unemployed, and because lawmakers haven't passed President Obama's jobs bill.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON: So if you won't get the jobs bill done in the suite, then we'll get the jobs bill done in the street.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
KEYES: The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, but the rate for Hispanics is 11 percent and for African-Americans its 16 percent. The Senate voted Mr. Obama's jobs bill down last week. But many speakers here said they support both his bill and his re-election. At one point, the crowd spontaneously began chanting.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)
GROUP: Pass the bill. Pass it through...
KEYES: But the agenda here included statehood for Washington, D.C. and the issues of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Both groups joined this march. Lee Saunders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the crowd the King Memorial is a great tribute but to honor the fallen leader, demonstrators must continue his legacy.
LEE SAUNDERS: The richest 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of this country's wealth. Our work, brothers and sisters, is not done.
KEYES: Other speakers, including Rebecca Pringle, of the National Education Association, invoked King and speculated on what he would think of the state of the nation where he fought for equal opportunities for everyone.
REBECCA PRINGLE: I believe he would be outraged. He would be outraged that one out of five children is living in poverty in this great nation.
KEYES: Though those on stage attacked lawmakers for blocking the jobs bill and threatened to vote them out of office for not supporting it, all of the invective wasn't aimed at one party. Walter Andrews, of the Communications Workers of America, said there was plenty of blame to spread around.
WALTER ANDREWS: As we dedicate this monument to Dr. King, we have another set of eyes watching these mean-spirited Republicans and these weak-kneed Democrats. They need to stop playing games with America's working-class people and put America back to work now.
KEYES: Martin Luther King III told the crowd after bailing out the banks and Wall Street, it's time to bail out working Americans. And he says he knows where his father would be today.
MARTIN LUTHER KING III: I believe that if my father was alive, he would be right here with all of us involved in this demonstration today.
KEYES: King III is speaking today at the formal dedication going on at the King Memorial. Along with President Obama, others on the agenda include civil rights activists such as Sharpton, Reverend Joseph Lowery, former Ambassador Andrew Young, poet Nikki Giovanni, songstress Aretha Franklin, and other members of King's family. Those at yesterday's march said they would be here today and be part of history.
Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.