Motivated to march - Albuquerque Journal

Motivated to march

President Donald Trump’s racially charged comments on immigration hung in the air Saturday morning as hundreds marched through Downtown Albuquerque to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

The annual parade began in the University of New Mexico area and continued for a mile-and-a-half down the boulevard named for the civil rights icon, culminating at Civic Plaza.

Saturday’s crowd packed Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue NE – the largest turnout in years, according to several long-time participants.

Marchers of every race shouted slogans like “Not my president” while carrying signs advocating for immigrants, workers, the Black Lives Matter movement and progressive causes.

Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and parts of Africa as “shithole countries” and expressed a preference for immigrants from places like Norway during a White House meeting last week, according to The Washington Post.

Fernanda Lopez, an 18-year-old Highland High School senior, said the president’s comments were upsetting.

“I’m here to support all the people who have been discriminated against,” said Lopez, who was attending the march for the first time, along with other members of Highland High’s Chicano Studies club, Metro.

Many marchers said the event was an opportunity to fight back against Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

Patricia Stelzner and Sig Olson, both attorneys and ACLU members, argued that public protests are becoming more and more important.

“It’s great to demonstrate how positive we are that we can overcome all the negative coming out of our D.C. area,” Stelzner said.

On Civic Plaza, local elected officials and civil rights leaders also expressed a mix of anger and hope concerning the country’s direction.

Mayor Tim Keller told the crowd that Albuquerque must remember that “there is far more that unites us than divides us.”

“In today’s political climate, particularly with what we see coming out of the news in Washington, it’s clear that the teachings of Dr. King are ones that we must continue to remind ourselves about today,” he said. “While some who claim to be leaders in our country revel in division and in hate, it reminds me that we have to stand up against that rhetoric and that we have to resist and that we have to stand for the spirit of inclusion and of unity.”

A number of speakers stressed pride in their culture and celebrated the city’s diversity.

Before singing the national anthem, Alexandra Germain said she wanted to stand up as a black American, a Haitian-American and an Albuquerque native.

Germain, a member of the MLK Youth Commission, asked why Trump was “so outrageously hateful.”

To University of New Mexico administrator Sonia Gipson Rankin, King’s legacy is a call to speak out and hold the powerful accountable.

Gipson Rankin – UNM associate dean for curriculum and program development of University College and a senior lecturer in Africana Studies – cited United Nations statistics about global poverty and the growing refugee crisis.

“We have to learn how to live his (King’s) legacy,” she said. “We have to take care of each other.”

King was killed 50 years ago – only months after he spent his last birthday working on an economic justice campaign – and Gipson Rankin stressed that a racist society assassinated him, not just the man who pulled the trigger.

Leonard Waites, New Mexico MLK State Commission executive director, closed the event by calling for civic engagement.

“We have to pay attention to what’s happening in the world today,” he said. “With all the things that are happening around the country, it’s important.”

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