“When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” ― Bayard RustinIn our current American culture much of what we do when we protest emulates Bayard Rustin's philosophy, we join together to make our voices heard while practicing non violence. The same non violence Bayard Rustin convinced Reverend Martin Luther King to adopt during the bus boycotts. A struggle fraught with violent attacks by police and white supremacist terrorists. It was the will to be peaceful, despite the violent oppression they faced, that brought success to the Boycotters.
Now we see this peaceful form of protest in those that chain themselves to equipment in an attempt to protect the environment as well as when as seen in this iconic photograph Occupiers were attacked with a chemical weapon while sitting in protest:
What Bayard Rustin did that was spectacular is still marginally attributed to him. The 1963 March on Washington that was the site of Reverend Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech was organized by Bayard Rustin.
A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence.It was the insistence that it was to be a march of peace and not one of violence that was instrumental for the marches success.
Despite these achievements, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. Five years in the making and the winner of numerous awards, BROTHER OUTSIDER presents a feature-length documentary portrait, focusing on Rustin’s activism for peace, racial equality, economic justice and human rights.
Today, the United States is still struggling with many of the issues Bayard Rustin sought to change during his long, illustrious career. His focus on civil and economic rights and his belief in peace, human rights and the dignity of all people remain as relevant today as they were in the 1950s and 60s.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom will be forever known as the day that ensured the success of the civil rights movement and launched the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into the highest pantheon of American champions. Next week, on the 48th anniversary of the march, King will be anointed into that ultra-selective fraternity of national leaders memorialized on the Mall.A Gay man doubly marginalized in a culture seething with hate was able to overcome those shackles and create a movement that today we look upon as one of the greatest moments in our nations history.
But for hundreds of civil rights veterans, Aug. 28 will also always be Bayard’s Day, the crowning achievement of one of the movement’s most effective, and unconventional, activists.
“When the anniversary comes around, frankly I think of Bayard as much as I think of King,” says Norton. “King could hardly have given the speech if the march had not been so well attended and so well organized. If there had been any kind of disturbance, that would have been the story.”