After watching the commemorative speeches for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington I was conflicted. I had a lot of thoughts about what I witnessed. I asked two gentlemen whom I’ve had great dialogue with on history as well as political and social issues to weigh in on some questions I had. These gentlemen are @OG_Humble_One and @wu_youngAOM.
1. Who was your favorite speaker and why?
Wu: I would have to go with a combination of both Representative Lewis and President Carter. It was good to see men of their ages speak candidly about their experiences. I will always maintain that there is no better way to devour history than to hear it from someone who lived through it. I take this view because my parents were children of the depression and not baby boomers. Lewis and Carter’s firsthand accounts just stuck with me.
OG: My favorite speaker was John Lewis. I feel that out of all the speakers he put things in perspective. He spoke on how things were and how things are now. He also touched on current struggles. Having someone speak that was on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement and had a visible role in the original MOW helped me to have a deeper understanding of the CRM.
Tunde: My favorite speaker was Rep. John Lewis. At first I was moved simply because of who he was and what he has done in the name of civil rights. His personal sacrifices and what he had to do to be where he is. Outside of Rep. Bobby Rush my favorite congressman is Rep. John Lewis. Emotions aside he was my favorite speaker that day because he not only used the day to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the impact of what the March on Washington was about but he spoke on the ills of our society today. He stated plainly that racism remains embedded into American society today, which I agree with. He named issues around racism that need to be addressed which included Stop and Frisk in New York City, mass incarceration, the George Zimmerman trial, immigration policies, poverty and changes to voting rights. I would have loved to see how far his speech would have gone if he wasn’t forced to edit it.
2. Apparently two young speakers were cut from speaking last minute. What do you think of the exclusion of younger people from the March’s event?
Wu: This was a definite red flag for me due to the fact that it illustrates the divide between the generations who fought the hard fights from the beginning until the early 1970’s. It always seemed to me that the older folks just handed their proverbial weapons over to the next generation and didn’t bother to train them but often ask the same generation to sit by and be quiet when we speak on “the way things were”. Sure, older generations love to talk about how long their walk to school was but they have to realize that it helps when younger folks who look up to them get to tell their story. There is a certain level of self-importance held by both generations but only the younger generations’ self-importance is spoken on.
OG: I had a problem with this. Philip Agnew (A brilliant young activist) and Sofia Campos were not allowed to speak. This is Philip Agnew’s speech for those that have not read it. Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials should’ve had a prominent voice at the anniversary. This speech should have been a symbolic “passing of the torch”.
Tunde: MLK was thirty-four during the original March on Washington. Rep. John Lewis was 23 years of age. Whatever we’re fighting for now is partly for immediate change but it’s also to leave a better world for the next generation. Eventually the leaders of yesterday are going to have to pass the torch. Leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, whom died naturally, or leaders such as Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton and James Chaney who died at the hands of people who would see the end of the Civil Rights Movement, gave way to the leaders who eventually saw the passing the of Civil Rights and Voting Acts. I think that these leaders who are still holding on to the spotlight have gone above and beyond what was called of them and are a credit to our people. I’m ready for fresh faces and voices, fresh ideas that will continue the fight against discrimination and injustice.
3. I noticed a lot of commemorating but not a lot of call to action and planning. 50 years ago the March on Washington was about jobs and freedom. Yesterday it felt like a lot of back patting and self-aggrandizement. What type of plans would you like to see going forward?
Wu: There was a lot of self-aggrandizing. There was more than I cared for at times too but I’m not one for pomp. Moving forward I want to hear plans on education, economics, and improved health care. The literacy rate and grade-level reading NEEDS to improve for black folks to strive. Multiple plans for economic responsibility and improvement has to be the next step for us to maintain and expand our foothold. As for health care we need to address our general well-being. Mentally, physically, and spiritually it seems to me that we are lagging behind. As someone who deals with depression I will be the first to say that we must address our mental health in a serious manner. We must deal with what we eat and grow. I think quality and moderation is the key to this.
OG: I had a HUGE problem with this. This ties into the previous question. It was a lot of back-patting and self-aggrandizement. This is my biggest problem with prominent CRM leaders post CRM. They fall all over themselves for everything up 1965. What about the 70s, 80s, and 90s? Post CRM people of color have been taking it on the chin. It makes me question what was the struggle about? Was it getting a white collar job and moving to the suburbs? The Black middle class hit the ground running post CRM but everyone else has been in a slow decline. There is roughly a 15 year span between the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and Reganomics. So as soon as working class Black folks started to make some gains the rug was snatched from under them. Winning the war is the easy part. Having a plan after victory is the challenge.
As far as plans going forward I would like to see an updated Black agenda based on the revised 10 point program of the Black Panther Party
- We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black and oppressed communities.
- We want full employment for our people.
- We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
- We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
- We want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
- We want completely free health care for all black and oppressed people.
- We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people, other people of color, all oppressed people inside the united states.
- We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression.
- We want freedom for all black and oppressed people now held in U.S. Federal, state, county, city and military prisons and jails. We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country.
- We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology.
Tunde: During the speeches I heard a lot of buzzwords repeated over and over. “Hallowed ground” and “Shadow of Lincoln’s statue” immediately come to mind. Also, a lot of speakers do what most people do when they quote the I Have A Dream speech. They only quoted parts that weren’t decisive or radical. It’s meant to draw emotion across the board and I think for the most part it succeeded. I wanted to hear more about what can be done to combat the repeal of parts of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. I wanted to hear more about mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline.
4. I wasn’t the only one that noticed there was an obvious void of Republicans from the March anniversary activities. There seemed to be a lot of excuses thrown around as to why. Also, coverage on Fox News was what I expected during the keynote speakers (The War on Drugs and Immigration). What are your thoughts on this?
Wu: The GOP’s absence was expected. (I will say that Tim Scott (Rep, SC) did let the organizers know that he had a prior engagement.) Since I try to stay away from Fox and all cable news I can only imagine what was said. I’m guessing it was generalized, slanted, and ham-fisted.
OG: I’m not surprised this happened. Especially considering the current political environment. Conservatives didn’t support the CRM then and they don’t support it now. You would think they would have some representation there considering they want minorities in their party. Being there would have given some inkling they are open to others.
Tunde: I expected there to be at least one key Republican figure just for publicity’s sake but I was wrong. Maybe Speaker John Boehner would take 5 minutes out of his busy schedule to say something. I can’t even say I was shocked. Just disappointed. Fox News is a joke. Insert lyrics from Nas’ Sly Fox.
5. What do you think of the current state of the Black community?
Wu: Ah, the State of Us. I think we’re both scattered and together at the same time. The levels of snobbery, classism, and infighting seem to bubble up at the wrong moments when we need unity. At many points we lack a clear united front and I’m not sure if we ever had one. Unlike many groups of Americans we’re unfortunately viewed through such a monolithic lens that we buy into the notion too. I say we need to embrace our diversity without looking down or away from the others on team.
OG: Right now we are in bad shape overall. I don’t like using the term Black community because there isn’t one. The lack of community is why I feel there should be separate business/political leadership amongst Black folks. Current politicians, business leaders, activists campaign and talk like they represent all of us but they only represent a few and for the right price they’ll represent you. The decimation of public schools and the private prison industry are issues that working class and poor Blacks face. We don’t vote, invest, or live in the same neighborhoods so how can issues like this be fought? Our political power has diminished too. No one has to do anything for Black voters. I’ve seen so much selfishness, classism, and self-hate now and it hurts. Individually? A very small number of Black folks are doing ok to great. As a whole? We are in terrible shape.
Tunde: I’m ambivalent. I think that’s the best word to use here. On one side I love what I see. I see people who are engaged in their community. Active members of society who just want live life and help those around them. On the other side I see something completely different. We like to point to Chicago as ground zero for black on black crime as if there isn’t examples of wasted lives and opportunities in just about every city and town this country. I wish more of us would open our eyes and see that we fall victim far too often to materialism and buying into what we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to behave.
What did you think of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington? Did you have a chance to attend any of the events? Who was your favorite speaker? What do you think we as a nation need to do going forward to try to fulfill Dr. King’s dream?