If there is a theme to the 50th year commemorative marches held in Washington DC and in cities all over the country last weekend, it had to be “don’t let the ‘real’” activists speak. I think the decision not to include people who shared Martin Luther King’s vision that this system that features the triplets of racism, materialism and militarism has to be changed, is indicative of just how far we have not come in 50 years.
Of course the radicals ironically were not allowed to speak at the original march either. In fact, the entire thing was orchestrated from beginning to end.
Malcolm X called them out at the time. He made the point that the original idea of the March on Washington was to storm the city and shut it down. Folks had talked about lying in the streets and shutting down airport traffic.
It was a real radical idea that had been proposed. But as Malcolm X pointed out the Kennedy administration made sure that the more conservative Civil Rights leaders were put in front of the march. The speeches were tightly controlled.
When John Lewis suggested that there was something wrong with this American system and that it ought to be called out, he had to pull it. Fortunately at the time they didn’t recognize Martin Luther King’s speech turned out to be quite radical.
No, not the I have a dream part, but the part in which he reminds this country that they did indeed owe Black folks full citizenship rights and full equality and that Black folks were even due reparations for all their hard work in forging this country.
And just in case someone got off script there was a justice department official stationed to pull the plug on the sound system. But some good came out of the fight and most of the folks there, unlike during the 50th commemorative celebration, realized that they were going to have to struggle to get their fair share of the American pie. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
However, 50 years later we find ourselves still confined to ghettos. Our young people are arrested and jailed at a greater rate. Too many of us are mired in poverty. Public school education has gotten worse for the poorer sections. We are still discriminated against on the job, still have the highest unemployment rate, still victimized by violence and police brutality, still make only a percentage of what Whites make. We still lag behind in homeownership.
Though many of the speakers 50 years ago were a bit more conservative and advocated slow change, they were, however, a reflection of a movement and a willingness to fight for change. This year’s speakers simply reflect on the problem with no real solutions and hollow calls for organizing and change.
Interestingly, many of the commemorative ceremony’s speakers were actually a part of the system, the people who work hard at making us think that the system works and that it is “self correcting” despite really clear evidence to the contrary. There were senators and legislators, representatives of the very system that Martin and Malcolm and other radical change agents accused of causing the problems.
This year even the guardian and head of U.S. imperialism — the one at the top of this system of injustice and oppression — Barack Obama spoke. Yes, that’s who he is!
I think the commemorative ceremonies spoke volumes about where we are as a Black community. Ironically, locally folks begged to get the real justice issue on the docket the shooting of Terrance Franklin by Minneapolis police to no avail.
Somehow that very real issue that really affects our community wasn’t allowed on the docket. People were frightened by the lies the system always tells to get the more scary members of our community to play it safe.
Even the folks actually doing the human rights and civil rights work in the community weren’t invited to speak. I wonder what the organizers feared?
Clearly many have become comfortable with a system that deprives many of the brothers and sisters both domestically and internationally of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The fact that there was little to no mention of that fight says something.
I’m not sure what but it should call for some soul searching. Maybe folks don’t really want to get real freedom. I mean after all, they aren’t living in the ’hood and their belly’s are full. Their kids are well educated.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.