Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, chairing the Detroit MLK Day Rally & March held at the Historic Central United Methodist Church. This year's event was the 10th annual commemoration. (Photo: Mark Tucker), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
March on Washington 50th Anniversary Renews Call for Jobs and Freedom
Unions, civil rights organizations, youth, community groups make strong showing in D.C.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A huge turnout characterized the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Crowds were large and dispersed throughout wide areas surrounding the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, all along Independence, Constitution avenues between 14th and 17th streets.
There were thousands upon thousands of people rallying and demonstrating on behalf of a myriad of movements, organizations and causes.
Labor representation was substantial with hundreds of buses from the UAW, Unite Here, SEIU, AFSCME and other trade unions bringing workers wearing their shirts some of which bore images of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 which the day is known for.
Broad cross sections of the workers’, African American, Latina/os, Asian American, Muslim, environmental, left, anti-war, peace, LGBTQ, women’s, disabilities rights movements were present. Leaflets, newspapers, t-shirts, posters, postcards and other forms of expression from a variety of tendencies were distributed free and also sold.
This year’s demonstration clearly represented the changes that have occurred within the United States over the last five decades. Many of the speakers at the August 24 demonstration were elected officials and others connected with the Democratic Party.
In 1963, the Democratic Party was deeply divided over Civil Rights with a strong southern bloc committed to the maintenance of legalized segregation. Today President Barack Obama is in the White House yet African Americans remain in poverty and suffer unemployment rates twice the size of that of the white population.
Fifty years ago the Vietnam War was escalating with the presence of thousands of so-called “military advisers” in the country attempting to prevent the consolidation of the socialist and national liberation forces inside the south-east Asian state. In 2013, the Pentagon, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are still destabilizing various geo-political regions of the world.
Speeches and Outreach
There was a long line of speakers who addressed the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial. The rally was largely hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network (NAN), which issued the called for the event.
In addition to the sponsorship by the Rev. Al Sharpton's NAN, other significant figures included Martin Luther King III and the NAACP leader Ben Jealous. The roster of speakers included King, Sharpton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. They spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where 50 years ago this month Dr. King, Sr., Bayard Rustin, Daisy Bates, A. Philip Randolph, Ossie Davis, Josephine Baker, the Freedom Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Odetta, Whitney Young and others addressed a crowd of at least 250,000 people.
One young man said to this writer that “there are too many issues today and that 50 years the message was more focused against segregation and for voting rights.” Others responded that the nature of the oppression today is more complex than in 1963.
Some of the speakers addressed this contradiction. Although the legalized segregation has been abolished, U.S. society is still polarized by both race and class.
Martin Luther King, III noted on August 24 from the podium that "The task is not done, the journey is not complete. The vision preached by my father a half-century ago was that his four little children would no longer live in a nation where they would be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
"However, sadly, the tears of Trayvon Martin's mother and father remind us that, far too frequently, the color of one's skin remains a license to profile, to arrest and to even murder with no regard for the content of one's character," he said, calling for "stand your ground" laws to be repealed in states where they have been enacted.
Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who was the youngest at 23 and the most militant speaker representing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963, also recognized that the struggle around the same issues that attracted people a half century ago are still relevant. Lewis appealed to younger generations to renew the fight for political and economic equality.
Lewis said "Fifty years later, we cannot wait, we cannot be patient. We want our jobs and we want our freedom now ... we cannot give up. We cannot give out."
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin who was slain in 2012 by George Zimmerman, addressed the audience. Martin’s case has galvanized millions around the U.S. to speak out against racial profiling, racist violence and the failure of the courts to convict those committing blatant acts of violence against oppressed people.
Fulton told the crowd that "Trayvon Martin was my son, but he's not just my son, he's everybody’s son, and we have to fight for our children.”
A national call against racial profiling demanding justice for Trayvon Martin and other victims of racist violence was circulated broadly by the People’s Power Assembly (PPA) at the march in Washington. A series of demonstrations across the U.S. are scheduled for Wednesday August 28, the actual anniversary of the original March on Washington in 1963.
Another initiative by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition from Detroit was also distributed at the march. The organization is fighting against the banks and austerity in the largest per capita African American municipality in the country which has been forced into bankruptcy by an unelected emergency manger working on behalf of the financial institutions.
Moratorium NOW! Coalition activists passed out thousands of leaflets to the march participants who were eager to hear an alternative perspective on Detroit that places culpability for the imposition of austerity, the attempts to bust the municipal unions, the seizure of public assets, the threat against retiree pensions and healthcare programs as well as the nullification of the votes of people in Detroit and other cities across the state of Michigan, from the viewpoint that the banks and corporations are at the root of the crisis.
Organizers from the Moratorium NOW! Coalition along with 40 other organizations and individuals has endorsed an International People’s Assembly Against the Banks and Against Austerity scheduled for October 5 and 6 at Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit. The event is designed to mobilize local, statewide, national and global solidarity around the need to wage a struggle against the draconian attacks being waged by the ruling class against working people and the nationally oppressed.
Activists from Detroit told March participants that if the banks and corporations can engineer the destruction of defined pensions and public ownership of city assets, no segment of the working class will be safe around the U.S. in the face of a wave of such attacks. Many expressed sympathy and support for the plight of the people of Detroit and understood clearly the role of the banks within the ongoing economic crisis.
The outpouring of people to the 50th anniversary March on Washington illustrates that there is a rising consciousness related to the need to organize against racism and class oppression. Many of those present pledged to return to their communities to work on the issues raised at the gathering both on the podium as well as within the crowds and at the literature tables surrounding the entire area.