Wilhemina Moore smiled as she scanned the crowd gathered in Washington Saturday. There were people clasping black-and-white photos of Martin Luther King Jr., and others wearing T-shirts with the words: “Keeping the dream alive.”
One sign showed over the heads in the crowd: “Standing up for jobs!”
Moore, 57, of Baltimore, said that’s why she was there. A very small percentage of people have most of the money in this country, she said. “We need to change that.”
At 1 o’clock Sharpton’s raspy voice rang out and the crowd shouted along with him, over and over, “No justice? No peace!”
A woman stomped her feet in the grass, and people pumped fists.
“We come today,” he said, “because this country has ignored the unemployed.”
Referring to Congress, he said, “If you won’t get the jobs bill done in the suite, we will get the jobs bill done in the street!”
He said, “It’s time for us to occupy Wall Street! Occupy DC! Occupy Alabama!”
He talked about political leaders fighting and cutting programs like social security.
“This is not about Obama,” he boomed, “this is about my mama!”
People laughed and repeated, “It’s about my mama! That’s right!”
People gathered for a separate demonstration in support of District voting rights and the Occupy Wall Street movement made their way through city streets before merging with Sharpton’s march on The Mall.
In both cases, as the demonstrators made their way to the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, organizers attempted to tie their causes to King, saying they are confident he would be with them if he were alive today.
“The leaders of the civil rights movement knew, as Dr. King did, that if African-Americans continued to wait patiently for their rights to be given to them, it would never happen,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who sponsored the voting rights march. “How true was that then, and how true it still is today, when well over 40 years later the leaders of Congress keep telling the residents of the District of Columbia to wait.”
Gray kicked off the march on Freedom Plaza, where some of the Occupy Wall Street protestors have set up a temporary encampment.
During his speech, Gray told more than 1,000 onlookers he hopes city residents join him in becoming increasingly outspoken about securing a voting member of Congress or achieving statehood.
“I am sick and tired of paying taxes to a nation whose leaders treat me with disdain,” said Gray, who will also be giving a 90-second address at Sunday’s formal unveiling of the King Memorial. “I am sick and tired of telling our children to risk their lives for the freedom of far-away nations and then come to disrespect and nullification.”
Earlier in the day near the Washington Monument, with American flags whipping in the wind, people held up union fans, signs that said, “I AM A MAN,” and posters they had made.
Michael and Margaret Chambers of Upper Marlboro carried a sign that read, “GOP Gouges the Old and Poor,” nodding and smiling as people snapped photos of it.
Margaret Chambers, a retired District school teacher, said she was worried what would happen to the old, the poor, and the sick.
“I just think people ought to be aware that all of the labor, all the civil rights and human rights gains that we have made in this country — the clock is being turned back. Since Obama has been president, not only have we gone back to Reconstruction, I’m wondering if we’ve gone back to Dred Scott,” Michael Chambers said. Voting rights are getting hemmed in, he said, and tax breaks are going to corporations creating jobs overseas.
“People need to know -- we’ve got to take to the streets, make out voices heard, turn out in sufficient numbers to get attention. If we don’t, all the things we have taken for granted will be put to the wayside. There won’t be a middle class when these folks are through -- there will only be rich and poor,” Michael Chambers said.
The crowd cheered and called out, “Yes!” and “Amen!” to speakers, and chanted: “The people united shall never be defeated!
Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, told the crowd, “The whole world is watching!” and people roared along with him, “Respect my vote! Respect my vote! Respect my vote!”
WATCH: Rev. Al Sharpton rallies the crowd