Speech delivered by Doris Haddock at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, September 7, 1999
We are on hallowed ground. The petty affairs of the day fade away at this place, where the courage and pain of a righteous life suddenly transcended to the eternal. And with that transcendence, the light from above that shows us the way to justice and love became, for all time, one soul brighter. Did King die here? The part of him we love, his soul, will never die. And so his voice still rings in our ears and he still implores us to make brotherhood, love and self-sacrifice our only tools for change. We hear you, Dr. King.
In this place, it is easy to remember that our brothers and sisters of every color have sacrificed their lives to advance our shared dream of a land of equality and plenty. We have NOT made these sacrifices in order to separate our people into rich and poor, privileged and oppressed. Dr. King was in this very place because he believed that equal economic opportunity is the partner of political equality.
Our people are more economically divided now than they were when King walked this way. The tax and labor and business laws of this nation drive that division, and those policies are held hostage by a corrupt Congress and its system of campaign finance bribery and billion-dollar political favors. These favors are paid at the expense of programs that could make our society more fair and less troubled.
Whole parts of our society, stripped of other opportunities, have fallen into illegal markets to survive. A young generation of urban poor is in jail or in the justice system. Our families are working too many jobs and too many hours to be able to raise their families properly.
It is the duty of leaders to shape society so that the great masses of its people can work to provide decently for their families and their futures. Our leaders, distracted by the corruption of the campaign finance system, are failing that duty.
They pass laws that destroy the jobs and lower the protections for workers, that segregate the people into rich communities and ghettos of despair, and that provide jails instead of education, shelters instead of decent housing, toxic pollution instead of healthy environments for our children. They do it to favor the wealthy elite who buy campaigns to keep them in power.
We must replace this bribery with the full public financing of our elections, so that candidates may speak as freely to the community as they did in the days of the Fourth of July candidate's picnic in the park. We must get big money out of politics before it destroys us utterly.
Americans are disheartened, but we reformers must not despair. We must help bring on the day when ordinary people can speak as equals at the table of power to decide the affairs of our government.
Our democracy is sacred ground. It is red with the sacrifices of our people. We are here today to honor those sacrifices, not with our words, but with our deeds.
To the apologists of corruption in Congress, like Mr. McConnell of Kentucky, understand, sir, that, just like those who stood atop the school steps to block the historic arrival of desegregation, you cannot stand forever atop the Capitol steps, your arms folded against the American people's longing for a democracy worthy of our national sacrifices.
I thank Mr. Dick Gregory, Rev. Billie Kyles, and the Memphis sanitation workers who have walked here with me today. I hope you will walk with me again in January in Washington. By then I might need a hand up the Capitol steps, and I hope that we, as American brothers and sisters, might go into that great temple of freedom together, with Dr. King beside us and in our hearts.