Supporters of civil rights gathered in Vogel Park in downtown Medford Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the Washington mall.
Though a modest gathering of about two dozen people, it had the fervor of the passionate Civil Rights era, as participants called for "the dream" to include gays and Latino immigrants — as well as the working poor being they said were left out of the vision of today's society.
After reading much of King's "Dream" speech to the crowd, Virginia Camberos, regional organizer for Oregon Action, said, "The dream is alive in us, as immigrants who want reforms that bring a path to citizenship. Martin Luther King would support and advocate for that and for gay rights."
Allen Hallmark of Citizens for Peace and Justice recounted how he was raised in a conservative Texas family, got a good college education then "had my whole outlook changed and my mind opened" by King's Dream speech — as well as the assassinations of King and Robert F. Kennedy in the spring of 1968, while Hallmark served in the Army in Vietnam.
"King helped transform my view of how the world operates," said Hallmark, "and gave me a new respect for nonviolence and the power of organizing to change things. The loss of his energy and leadership was tragic to me."
Two-time Democratic Congressional candidate Joyce Segers said, "King's speech has held its power over so many years and we still have a lot of work to do. We still have to get out on the streets in search of fairness and justice."
Fourteen-year old Dakota Mehus of Phoenix High School said he loved King's speech and the powerful movement it spurred and "I would like to see everyone just get along."
Outgoing Oregon Action director Rich Rohde said the King speech triggered "the whole movement of justice forward" and needs to be used in marches for gay rights, coming up Sept. 15-17 in Deschutes County, ending at the office of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in Bend.
Citizens taking the microphone brought up a range of social and political issues — from the dangers of potential involvement in the Syrian conflict, to challenging those in the crowd to be able to prove their ancestors are legal immigrants, even if they've been here for generations.
Beverly DeLeonardis said she earlier thought the country was making economic progress but now it seems "we are waiting and divided" and any policies from the administration, especially immigration reform, cannot get through Congress, because of "the prejudice in the country."
The gathering sang "Give Peace a Chance" and "We Shall Overcome," while demonstrators held signs saying, "Shoulder to Shoulder, Just Immigration Reform."
Camberos was greeted with cheers as she read King's words:
"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
"With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
"With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.