Last night, nearly 44 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Philadelphia residents and Penn students gathered at 30th Street Station to voice their concerns over wealth inequality and to shed light on labor union struggles in light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The event, which was organized by the Occupy Philadelphia Labor Working Group, consisted of a rally at 30th Street Station, a march to the post office on 30th and Walnut streets and inspirational presentations from guest speakers.
Approximately 400 people turned out for the event, including nearly 40 Penn students.
The event was scheduled purposefully for MLK Day to set the tone and provide inspiration, said School of Arts and Sciences graduate student Neha Sobti. “MLK Day is for … protesting, organizing and making real change to make equality a reality.”
Students have been involved in the Occupy movement and recent labor protests from the start.
“We try to include not just labor people, but community-based people,” said Ron Whitehorne, a retired teacher and member of the Labor Working Group.
Divya Nair, a School of Arts and Sciences graduate student added, “It’s always good to add your voice to the mix and to show up and listen.”
The Occupy Penn group, which was strong in numbers and volume at the event, chanted mantras like, “Hay, Ho! Corporate greed has got to go!” and “MLK showed us the way!”
Though King is widely remembered for his fight against racial inequality, Wharton senior Max Cohen reminds us that King’s mission was broader. “Racial equality was only a part of MLK’s struggle,” he said. “He [also] marched with unions.”
Indeed, several speeches given after last night’s rally and march evoked the rhetoric of King, and many of his quotes on wealth inequality were read out loud: “We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.”
Though the broader Occupy movement is concerned with changes on a national level, Cohen believes that the movement also serves as an important check for the Penn community on labor issues. “How is Penn doing on treating its [own] workers?” he asked.
According to Cory Clark, a media representative for Occupy Philadelphia, the route from the train station to the post office was chosen to shed light on the recent contract struggles the United States Postal Union has faced.
“We were concerned that the labor movement was not sufficiently involved in Occupy … We’re trying to give the broader Occupy movement a sense of what the labor movement is all about,” added Whitehorne.
King’s ability to unify people to bring about real social change was an inspiring example for many at the event.
“The Occupy movement is about creating solidarity among a huge group of people who we call the 99 percent,” Sobti said. “We can be united in our struggles.”
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