He could not resist drawing the obvious parallel. When United States President Barack Obama spoke at the unveiling of a towering, 30-foot sculpture of civil rights leader Martin Luther King on Washington's National Mall, he came as close as he could to endorsing Occupy Wall Street, the modern-day equivalent of the 1960s social movement.
Reflecting on Dr. King's Mahatma Gandhi-inspired belief in non-violent civil disobedience as a means of protest, Mr. Obama said if Dr. King were still alive, “I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonising all who work there.”
He also struck a blow for workers; unions which have watched helplessly as numerous Republican-controlled U.S. states such as Wisconsin have whittled away their collective bargaining rights, for example to set wages. The President said Dr. King would have believed “that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain”.
The ultimate blow Mr. Obama delivered was of course to his Republican and Tea Party opponents in Congress who have been single-mindedly fixated on the goal of cutting public expenditures even in the worst of the recession.
He threw the gauntlet at those parties saying, “He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other's love for this country... with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another.”
But it was the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the challenges it poses to a worsening rich-poor divide in the U.S. that seemed to catch Mr. Obama's imagination the most. Evoking the harsh reality that Dr. King and other leaders of the civil rights movement faced, Mr. Obama reflected on how little things had changed in 43 years. He said, “As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as ‘divisive.'”