The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington was a fitting bookend to a summer marked by heightened activism. I participated in the events yesterday, and it was a memorable experience. Attending as part of the National Action Network contingent, I got there via one of several buses from their New York City headquarters to Washington, D.C. Resulting from my choice to go with an organization, I had the opportunity to converse with a few other march attendees. Many of the people I spoke with were already engaged in a number of social justice issues, and this march represented the extension of that involvement to them. Issues ranging from the living wage movement, to Stand Your Ground were topics raised on the trip down. These discussions would foreshadow many of the progressive issues raised during the march, as I would see throughout the day.
When our contingent arrived in D.C., we were inundated with signs, the chants of a much larger crowd, and of course the vendors who wanted to sell buttons, t-shirts, and other memorabilia. The composition of the crowd from my assessment was predominantly Black from what I saw. Aside from the aforementioned NAN contingent, the NAACP was there in force. In addition to civil rights organizations, Black church congregations held a large presence there as well. I noticed Riverside and Macedonia Baptist Church- both of Harlem at the march.
The Zimmerman verdict was of course among the most prominent issues amongst the attendees. With so many signs about the verdict and Trayvon Martin’s image, it brought back some of the intensity of mid-July to the event.
What may not have come across in some of the other coverage on the march is just how large the labor contingents were. In looking through the crowd as we passed, I noted people from SEIU, TWU Local 100, CWA, and the UAW among others. To coincide with the labor heavy presence, I noticed a focus on the issues of economic justice from the people down there. In hearing people talk to one another, I heard questions raised about the fairness of our economic system, and companies deliberately exploiting their workers by giving them only enough hours so that they wont be eligible for health benefits. I think that matters like these, among others will be the building blocks of forthcoming movements should things continue.
Given the nature of this event, it would be a mistake to end this post without me mentioning the mood of the people in attendance. In my assessment, it was one of resolve, not fresh outrage. The events of the summer have had their impact, and it has resulted in an observable change. In my interactions yesterday, I encountered Black people from different regions of the country, and different walks of life. From places like Savannah, Georgia to Alabama, to California- this march brought together church congregations with labor activists, and everyday people who are all vitally concerned about the direction of this nation.
I have seen many say that this march has very little meaning outside of the symbolism of 50 years ago. To that, I will have to disagree and say that its too early to tell what the meaning of this will be. Instead of being fatalistic, I come away hopeful that this will be the beginning of a new struggle. Unfortunately, for myriad reasons, the rights of African Americans are under assault in ways that they have not been for years. This means that we have to draw strength, partially by learning about what was done in the past. The other part, is to realize that we have things going for us that were not available then. The steady resolve that I gathered from some attendees yesterday, will play no small part in going forward.