Why do I have a picture from the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place in 1963?
Forget about MLK’s historic, "I have a Dream Speech" – that was simply icing on the cake.
What was key about that march was the coalition that was forged, between the organizers behind the event, and those who showed up to march.
Marching together there were: black people, white people, latino people, asian people, native american people, straight people, gay people, religious people, atheist people, young people, old people, union people, unemployed people, democrats, republicans, independents, socialists and communists – in other words – people from every walk of life who attended. In solidarity with an idea about "Civil Rights". It was not a demonstration for or against a President. It was a demonstration of "people power".
Let us expand the concept of that gathering – to "Human Rights".
There are few issues that don’t fall under that heading:
The Environment and Global Climate Change
Women’s Issues and Reproductive Justice
Immigration and undocumented workers
The Criminal Injustice system
Union and Labor Issues
Religion versus Secularism
Did I forget yours? Add it in.
Perhaps it is time for us all to go back to school and remember the basics of coalition building.
You want "change"? You voted for "change"? Well, put your boots on and get ready to put your feet where your fingers are. Steada’ talking and ranting and infighting, and dancing to a "one note samba", it’s time to examine what you can come together around.
Life is too short to waste this important juncture in our history. We came together and got a Democrat back in the White House. Now we have a Congress to "move". We have a media that reports tea bagger rallies, and Sarah Palin book sightings (signings) as if they were bigger than the March on Washington. Bullshit I know – but it works. Time to put the lie to the liars – and shove it in their faces.
I am not suggesting a health care march, or a GLBTQ rights march, or a peace march, or an anti-Stupak or a Save the Environment march.
I am suggesting a 10 million person march. On Washington.
Yeah – you read that number right. Why not? Over a million people went to DC for Barack’s inauguration. If each of those folks got 10 friends to join in – 10 million is a piece of pie.
Can DC hold us all? Nope. Let the lines spill over into Arlington or Prince Georges County. Let there be a sea of blue filling the streets. A true rainbow coalition. Of all of us who believe in and have fought for "change". But first, we need to put aside squabbles, put aside the "my issue trumps your issue", or "my oppression is deeper and more lasting than yours". Save that for another day.
Find common ground, and Seize the Time.
We are the change we have been waiting for. Keep it real simple.
Americans who voted for change. No other agenda.
Can it happen? Yes. No one believed that Bayard Rustin, and a few other stalwart civil rights activists could pull off the March on Washington. The naysayers – black, white, left and center stood on the sidelines and criticized. The people ignored the peanut gallery, put their boots on, got into buses, boarded trains and planes or just walked – to get to DC.
There was no major funding. No corporate support. No lobbyists paying for signage. No blogosphere.
A little history of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom:
Far larger than previous demonstrations for any cause, the march had an obvious impact, both on the passage of civil rights legislation and on nationwide public opinion. It proved the power of mass appeal and inspired imitators in the antiwar, feminist, and environmental movements. But the March on Washington in 1963 was more complex than the iconic images most Americans remember it for. As the high point of the Civil Rights Movement, the march — and the integrationist, nonviolent, liberal form of protest it stood for — was followed by more radical, militant, and race-conscious approaches. The march was initiated by A. Philip Randolph, international president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO; and sponsored by five of the largest civil rights organizations in the United States. Planning for the event was complicated by differences among members. Known in the press as "the big six," the major players were Randolph; Whitney Young, President of the National Urban League (NUL); Roy Wilkins, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James Farmer, President of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); John Lewis, President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and Martin Luther King Jr. founder and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Bayard Rustin, a close associate of Randolph's and organizer of the first Freedom Ride in 1947, orchestrated and administered the details of the march.
You may not know who any of the above known players or heavy-hitters were. I knew, or met them all.
A lot of names are missing from CORE's version of the history, notably Ella Baker’s, but no matter. Those who know, know that Sister Ella was right in there with Bayard, organizing. She never needed the spotlight.
I belonged at one point in time to many of groups "led" by some of those folk. Believe me – they weren’t bosom buddies. But that was put to the side, and all in-fighting was suspended for another day, in order to build the coalition needed to pull it off.
While Randolph (and the National Urban League's Young) focused on jobs, the other groups centered on freedom. Both SNCC and CORE were organizing nonviolent protests against Jim Crow segregation and discrimination. In 1963 King's SCLC was waging a long campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama. The violence Sheriff Bull Connor and his men visited upon peaceful demonstrators in Birmingham brought national attention to the issue of civil rights. As Rustin later said, credit for mobilizing the March on Washington could go to "Bull Connor, his police dogs, and his fire hoses."
Operating out of a tiny office in Harlem, Rustin and his staff had only two months to plan a massive mobilization. Money was raised by the sale of buttons for the march at 25 cents apiece, and thousands of people sent in small cash contributions. The staff tackled the difficult logistics of transportation, publicity, and the marchers' health and safety. Attention to detail was crucial, for the planners believed that anything other than a peaceful, well-organized demonstration would damage the cause for which they would march.
We walked arm in arm – brothers and sisters united in the belief that our cause was just, and we were going to show the world what we believed.
That means that you who may be an anti-theist will have to lock arms and walk arm in arm with a Maryknoll Nun. That means that you who are a criminal justice reform advocate may be walking alongside a policeman/woman in uniform or a judge. Landlords and tenants, doctors, lawyers and Native American chiefs. United.
I think you get my drift.
There have been other marches – I’ve been to many of them, I still have buttons from the Poor People’s Campaign, anti-Vietnam War rallies, Ban the Bomb...Free the "__" (name a group), Don’t buy scab grapes.... The ERA... The Million Man March...a host of issues.
We rant and kvetch about coverage given to teabaggers and birthers. We tear up the blogosphere with our pungent rhetoric. We get out and demonstrate for "our" issue, and give others short shrift.
That needs to stop, or at least be suspended till we can show the nation, ourselves and the world what we demand.
March for Human Rights and Change?
Yes We Can.
I close with some music that should resonate with us all.
Ella's song, for Ella Baker, Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon, sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, which quotes Ella Baker's well known saying "we who believe in freedom cannot rest".
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