The alarm of my phone rang in my ear. I shook my dad to wake him up as we were going to a march. I already had heard that it would be a Democratic party pep rally. Paul LeBlanc and Michael Yates wrote on August 16ththat “the March on Washington to commemorate the 1963 march is nothing like that march; it looks like a Democratic Party pep rally, not a protest demanding jobs and justice. The organizers are inviting the people who have failed to solve the jobs crisis, allowed injustice to flourish and helped create the wealth divide…even one of the biggest corporatists in Congress, Steny Hoyer. This has nothing to do with the famed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event, except a common date.” I was aware of this reality, still at 8:15 AM, me and my dad started driving down to DC.
On the way down, we listened to an audio of the event broadcasted by C-Span Radio. None of the speakers criticized Obama, but one interested me deeply. One spoke about militarism and said that the US was the biggest purveyor of violence in the world today, but they were cut off. Then went on to the next speaker. I thought this was very odd. Once down at the event it was very different than I imagined.
Me and my dad climbed the stairs of the metro station stop at the Smithsonian, seeing the light above. People were flooding out of the station. We walked to the Lincoln Memorial with many others, who highlighted all sorts of issues. The commercialism was rampant. People were selling T-Shirts, buttons and then there were food trucks. This would have been ok, except that it was seeming to turn the marchers into consumers, rather than activists which deeply worried me. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches decrying materialism as one of the three evils (along with racism and militarism) in the last years of his life ran contrary to this behavior. Courtland Maloy noted in her Washington Post opinion, which annoyingly enforced many black stereotypes, the corporate sponsorship of the rally:
“Unlike the march in 1963, organized by socialist intellectuals A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the updated version featured politicians, media personalities and even the public-relations presence of Coca-Cola and Pepsi….it took a $12.5 million line of credit from Wal-Mart to break ground on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that thousands flocked to see after the march…At times, it seemed as if the only meaningful action speakers could take was pressuring government for redress.”
Back to my experience. The people gathering around the mall were packed in but the content of the speakers scared me a bit. By this I mean that when someone said the word “Obama” was mentioned, half of the crowd would cheer showing it was a bit of pep rally. It reminded me of those horrible rallies I had back in high school except this was on a larger scale and people were more sincere. I will say that it seems the organizers treated it more like a pep rally than the participants. David Zirin wrote about this better than I could, writing that:
“the number-one face on T-shirts, placards, and even homemade drawings was…Trayvon Martin. I also witnessed homemade signs calling for jobs programs, speaking out against the school closures and in solidarity with those overseas victimized by US militarism. The people at this march are the face of resistance to what Dr. King called the “evil triplets of militarism, materialism and racism.” The main speakers at the march did not match the politics and urgency…Even worse, few tried…I saw the great Julian Bond get only two minutes to say his piece before being shuttled from the stage. I saw Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has done remarkable work in recent years against the banks and predatory lending, also get less time than a pop song. I saw Reverend Lennox Yearwood, who is doing some of the most important work in the country connecting climate change to racism, get ninety seconds before being cut off. There was one speaker…who said the word “drones,” and that was it for any discussion of US foreign policy…we had far too many speakers pay homage to the narrowest possible liberal agenda in broad abstractions with none of the searing material truths that make Dr. King’s speeches so bracing even today. As Representative Nancy Pelosi spoke, it was difficult to not think of both her defense of the NSA spying program.. future New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Wall Street’s best friend, spoke at the front of this March…As Attorney General Eric Holder, the person who is not bringing federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, was allotted 30 minutes…to speak from the front stage…Yes it was profoundly moving to see Representative John Lewis, the only living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. Yes, it was right on time for the march organizers to give the incredible Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, time to speak. But the closest thing to an administration critic was 9-year-old Asean Johnson, who has been on the front lines fighting school closures in Chicago and bringing the fire to President Obama’s confidante Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the education agenda of Arne Duncan…The day was symbolized for me on multiple levels by seeing DC Park police seize 200 professionally printed placards from activists that were distributing them for free…I heard one DC police officer say, “Hey, you can get them back at the end of the day. On second thought, given your attitude you cannot.”…I’ve also never seen a demonstration so thickly monitored, with park police, the Department of Homeland Security and the military on every corner.”
What Zirin writes is very much correct. There was a lot of measures of control going on at this Democratic Party pep rally. Everyone was herded between fences the police had constructed, a park police tower was watching over the crowd and even a helicopter was flying overhead. Fences were everywhere that it was completely absurd, but likely a way to control the demonstrators. If this wasn’t enough, the area near the speakers, in front of the Lincoln Memorial was all blocked off by fences. No one attempted to cross these barricades, but police stood there, only letting in people who had the right press passes. It was almost like the media and the organizers were protected from the public. After the speeches, people were allowed in, but were not even allowed to climb all the way to Lincoln’s statue, as police were blocking the entrance in. The night before, people had protested on the steps of this very memorial, something protesters were allowed to do during the pro-Obama hangout from around 9 AM to 2 PM when the march was “commenced.”
Joining in the march at last was a wonderful feeling. I held up my double-sided sign which had radical messages and addressing broad issues while everyone had their own issue they wanted addressed. Environmental issues won’t really addressed by the people I saw, other than the Sierra Club, neither were things like GMOs. Even so, there were still a mix of opinions. I was quickly inspired, not only by the range of people and groups brought together, but also by the radicals that were there like myself. Resting at a bridge with my dad, I saw a person go by with a Free Chelsea Manning sign, which I repeated back to them and they smiled. This was just like the person I had seen earlier with a sign against NSA surveillance. What inspired me most was not only the Socialist Party USA contingent shouting “This is what democracy looks like!” but the International Socialist Organization’s participants. These people were saying: We are unstoppable! Another world is possible! This message really resonated with me deeply and made me very inspired.
As we got the tail end of the march, we went down into the metro and it was over for us. We went to a vegan shop on the north of DC to meet some of my friends who ended up not being there that long. All in all, I was deeply inspired by what happened that day, but reminded that the rally was just like that faux-protesting against Keystone XL in February which had a pro-Obama rally to start off.
In connection to this march, it was one of the many causes of new thoughts that have been brewing in my mind recently as I am coming to a new consciousness. Only a few have affected me deeply. The first of these was Chelsea Manning coming out as a transgender woman. This was a test of my acceptance of others and I succeeded at it greatly, criticizing articles that downplayed her bravery. Secondly, the blockbuster movie, Elysium which highlighted problems of income inequality, healthcare inequality and undocumented immigration. The movie is based around the idea that the majority of the population is on Earth and the rich are on Elysium living the high life. A hierarchy oppresses the citizenry that has police as the enforcers of the capitalist class. In the end, everyone gets universal healthcare after a huge battle scene. The third cause was a documentary named I Am which explores why the world is a messed up place, mainly dealing in philosophy, how Western society wrongly portrays human nature and pushing for compassion. This movie rather than those feel-good-liberal documentaries that tell you to go to their website or email your politician, this one advocated a change in consciousness. More importantly, it talked about how everything is interconnected which reminded me of Cloud Atlas, where one of the revolutionaries says “Our life is not your own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others,” something which this movie portrays very nicely.
This brings me to my closing. There is one thing that comes out of this march and my newfangled consciousness and that is one thing: we must push compassionate non-violence in a hostile world. This nonviolence would be pushing for solutions that don’t just tweak the system, but rather as Socialist Party USA puts it: “the system…must be changed…[with] a fundamental transformation of our society…[in which] the production and distribution of goods and services based on public need instead of private profit…disarmament and the prevention of war…eliminate prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.” In the end, as Martin Luther King said in 1957, “it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.”
For additional pictures see below: