President Obama will speak from the Lincoln Memorial at 3 p.m. today, the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Given that job and wage trends keep getting worse for working people but that organizing efforts in fast food and other service industries are going increasingly viral, this is the perfect moment for the President to declare clearly and unambiguously whose side he is on.
I wish President Obama would say something like: "In the 1930s, the last time that the United States had to choose between staggering levels of inequality and broadly shared prosperity, organizers rallied workers with the cry 'The President Wants You to Join a Union.'
"Today again, a growing chorus of organizers and workers are challenging the stark inequality that has emerged in America over the past third of a century. Fast food workers in 35 cities will rally tomorrow for a $15-per-hour wage. Health care workers in Pittsburgh are rallying to lift entry-level wages above $15 per hour and transform area wage standards so that all who work hard and play by the rules can again support their families. Workers at giant retailers seek a similar outcome with entry-level service positions going from poverty-wage jobs to family-supporting jobs in the blink of an eye.
"If we simply honor workers' basic freedoms — freedom to associate, freedom to organize, freedom to join a union — workers in our major service industries would flock to area-wide locals and could undo the inequalities that plague our society.
"So I say to you on this anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, I say to fast food workers and retail chain workers, to health care workers and restaurant workers, to all American workers who want a fair deal for their family, this President wants you to join a union.
"This one, simple step — real protection of workers' rights to join a union — could produce the economic justice that this country so desperately needs. Only with this simple step, can we complete Martin Luther King's dream. With this step, we can have liberty and justice for all."
OK, so Martin Luther King I ain't. But I wanted to get the general point down quickly, before President Obama's speech, so that I'm not Wednesday-afternoon quarterbacking if he should fail to capitalize on the chance to embrace the transformative economic and social justice organizing exploding across the country. Plus if he doesn't say what I want, I'll do a more polished version of the speech he should have given — after the fact. Here's the "speech" I wanted then-candidate Obama to give when campaigning in Pennsylvania in 2008. It also makes clear that I'm no Ted Sorenson (JFK's speechwriter), while still suggesting what might have been — and what might still be.
After all, President Obama said he wanted to be a transformative President. Here is his chance.