Today we remember Martin Luther King Jr., a founding father of today’s America.

When one refers to “founding fathers”, they are normally referring to a small circle of men credited with founding our democracy. Many more gave their lives for it, as did King. Our idea of what democracy means depends just as much on what King thought it meant as those founders from over two-hundred years ago.

If you believe that is an unfounded claim, let’s look at the civil rights movement in context of today’s struggle for rights:

The “I Have a Dream” speech—from which the cause of justice in this country still finds so much inspiration—was delivered on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. What is often not told is that this march almost happened in 1941, when A. Philip Randolph, the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters threatened to embarrass President Franklin Roosevelt for his hypocrisy in fighting injustice in Nazi Germany while not fighting it here at home. FDR, a Democratic President, alleviated wartime job concerns—a temporary fix—and left the underlying problems for someone else.

In 1957, a Civil Rights Act was passed, but almost wasn’t—the filibuster led by Strom Thurmond threatened to derail it. It was the longest filibuster in history (back when they had to actually filibuster on the floor). King marched on Washington in 1963, and a new Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. While marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, segregationists tried to beat back progress with a violent massacre. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, and anotherCivil Rights Act passed in 1968, which was the year that King died.

The simplest thing we can learn from King today in the immigrants’ rights movement is that it will not be defined by its legislation alone. There was no “comprehensive civil rights reform” which King held up for all to rally around as the golden key to freedom. There were the bills mentioned above, as well as several before them and several after, none of which succeeded in the impossible task of satisfying everyone.

What King did that made history is lead a movement of people who could not vote toward making America a more equal and fair society, convincing one and all that it was the right thing to do. Democracy meant more than voting—it meant taking to the street and voicing protest at injustice. It took strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, hunger strikes, marches and then—finally—votes to create the changes that were needed.

The civil rights movement shows us that society moves and the bills follow. We cannot be deterred by anti-immigrant bills or governors—as we have Jan Brewer to fight in Arizona, King had George Wallace to fight in Alabama. Wallace “stood at the schoolhouse door” the same way state legislatures do against equal rights in education.

As they overcame the oppression and racism of their day, so will we. We shall overcome. If you have been fighting, take today to reflect on King’s words and find the strength to keep fighting.

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