With a portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. peering over his right shoulder, former U.S. Representative Parren J. Mitchell denounced the military buildup in the Persian Gulf yesterday and called on like-minded Americans to march on Washington next month.
"This is wrong, this is illegitimate, this is indecent," said Mr. Mitchell, referring to the 480,000 American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. "But no one will stop the war but us."
"Us," for Mr. Mitchell, was the self-described "coalition of conscience" which sponsored a news conference in West Baltimore yesterday to announce the Jan. 19 National March on the White House. Organizers, who include representatives of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the Maryland Welfare Rights Organization, Morgan State University's student government and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, gathered at Union Baptist Church to announce support for the anti-war initiative.
Organizers were particularly incensed by President Bush's selection of Jan. 15, birthday of Dr. King, as the deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and thus the possible beginning of a war.
"Dr. King stood for peace and the rights of poor people as strongly as he stood against all forms of racism," said the Rev. Daki Napata, an assistant minister at Union Baptist and a co-chairman of the local march organizers. "For this reason we will be joining with hundreds of thousands of others in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19 to say no to Bush's war drive."
Dr. King, as well as the themes he stood for, was invoked repeatedly during the news conference. Harking back to litanies from the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements, speakers trumpeted peace and justice, human rights and concern for poor Americans.
"Millions and billions have been spent over there, and we haven't even fired a shot yet," said City Councilman Lawrence A. Bell. "If we had a fraction of that, we could take care of the housing problem right over here."
Baltimore's citizens will be able to commemorate Dr. King's birthday locally as well as in the march on Washington, organizers said.
"We are going to do a citywide mobilization," said Mr. Napata. "It will be a follow-up to [the Nov. 30] summit on racism."
Mr. Napata said he hoped the Jan. 15 celebration would prepare people for the march.
"If Baltimore doesn't respond to the call for a march, the march won't succeed," he said, citing Baltimore's proximity to Washington and the longtime commitment of many Baltimore residents to social causes. "It's a good sign for the national march that Baltimore is responding so early."