Entertainer Stevie Wonder shifted tactics yesterday in his campaign to make the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday, announcing that he would move his efforts from the streets of Washington to the halls of Congress.
The singer and songwriter said he will attend a legislative strategy session of national leaders on King's birthday, Jan. 15, instead of leading a concert and march as he did last year.
Wonder, joined by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, announced his plans in a Capitol Hill press conference at which plans were outlined for a series of events next week marking the slain civil rights leader's birthday.
Wonder mentioned King along with Medgar Evers, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon, calling them the "five fingers of the hand of hope for our future. We have lost that hand and must learn to adjust to that handicap. For those who have touched our lives with their message, let life move on."
Wonder, whose song lyrics often have dealt with issues like the plight of Vietnam veterans and discrimination in housing, will attempt to attend the annual Ward 8 King Parade on Jan. 14. But an attorney for Wonder said the fact that he will not be leading a rally on King's birthday marked a "transition in tactics. He wants to push this into a legislative focus."
In 1981 and 1982, Wonder led marches here to lobby for a King holiday.
Beginning Jan. 9, King week will include a community forum, a seminar on responding to racially motivated violence, musical tributes and an "interfaith service for jobs, peace and freedom." But the focal point of the week, Fauntroy said, will be the legislative strategy session on Jan. 15 in the Cannon House office building.
Fauntroy said that leaders from the peace movement, organized labor, and women's and civil rights groups will meet for the session, but offered no names of those planning to attend.
"This will be a year-long mobilization that will kick off on King's birthday, when we will mark specific legislative goals for jobs, peace and freedom," said Fauntroy. "The holiday bill will be the umbrella legislation. We plan to push through a jobs bill, a peace action bill and bill on human and civil rights for blacks, women, Indians . . . . "
Although the King holiday bill has failed each time it has been offered in Congress since 1969, Conyers expressed optimism yesterday on the bill's chances this year.
"We can pass this bill in the House at any time," said Conyers, who plans to reintroduce the bill Jan. 26. "There are 85 new members of Congress. We feel very good about the increased support that is almost certain to accrue because of the mid-term elections."
Wonder was more philosophical and lyrical in his statements, noting the achievements of sending men to the moon, manmade hearts, and solving the genetic secrets of life.
"With our ability to do so much we have done so little," Wonder said. "The possibility of nuclear war, social unrest and economic deprivation have slipped our busy list of things to change."