There was no way not to feel the tug of history Monday night at the Wisconsin State Capitol. The broad sweep of history was on display and acted as a backdrop to the political events that are unfolding in the state.
A large crowd had gathered while gray clouds passed overhead spitting some ice pellets. In spite of the weather it was clear that those assembled were in a reflective mood. While collective bargaining rights and hopes for the spring election on Tuesday were very much a topic of discussion, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the dreams not yet realized had also settled over the crowd.
There was no way not to feel the religious spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the opening music allowed for a spiritual quality to the evening. More than one person must have experienced goose bumps as the bagpipes played and the crowd sang “Amazing Grace.” There are times when ‘the moment’ just moves a crowd, and I think that was the case at the Capitol. I noticed some wet eyes at times in the crowd around me.
The backdrop to the event was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The murder of King took place in Memphis on April 4, 1968. On the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel that night was Jesse Jackson. At the same hour King was killed 43 years ago Jackson stood before those assembled in Madison and solemnly, but earnestly spoke from the heart.
“Dr. King is alive because he lives in us,” Jackson told the crowd.
King had been in Memphis to stand with the sanitation workers, and so it was touching to have Jackson bring out two of those workers from 1968, and have them stand alongside him.
The rich background of history weaved an amazing tapestry on the steps of the Capitol. I have never seen anything quite like that before at the Statehouse. The past rose up and spoke to the fight we still need to undertake to complete the vision that King laid out for this nation.
I have watched and heard Jackson many, many times since 1988, but this was the most meaningful. There was no way to look at Jackson and not see the mental images of the news stories from Memphis. There was no way to hear Jackson call for a better nation, the need for all citizens to exercise their right to vote, and the need for racial barriers to be lowered and not hear the voice of King.
This was a special night in Madison. One I hope that deepens our commitment to the shared values of making this city a better place to live, and our state a more fair place for all our workers.