Last weekend tens of thousands converged on the Capitol Mall for the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington. By all accounts, it was a good day, a day for celebration. But a lot of questions went unasked...
Differences between 1963 and 2013
By Chris Garaffa
There are significant differences between the 1963 and 2013 mobilizations. In 1963, the march represented a rising mass movement targeted against the establishment, a movement built on the struggles of the late 1950s and early 1960s that were successfully using mass-action methods to arouse opposition to segregation. In contrast, many key organizers of the 2013 mobilization represent mainstream forces, many of whom sought to promote their own agendas of directing mass anger in directions beneficial to their own political positions.
A principle of the 1963 march was that no politicians or appointed government officials would speak. While the 2013 list of speakers, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Eric Holder, represented a departure from the political and organizational principles of the 1963 march, the message of the participants was clear: Politicians do not give rights, the power of the people in struggle wins rights. Tawana Matthews who came from Jersey City, N.J., to the march, told Liberation News, "At the end of the day if we don't come together united, we won't get anything accomplished." Regardless of the posturing of some of the establishment speakers, the turnout and passion on the Mall reflected the desire for renewed struggle.
Erick Johns, a life-long native of Washington, D.C., said he still sees a lot of oppression in the city, particularly in the forms of unemployment, police brutality and “food deserts.” (The USDA defines food deserts “as urban neighborhoods … without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.”) Johns continued: "What do we do tomorrow? I'd like to see more solidarity with one another. History was made in 1963, and we've come a long way. Obama got elected and that was big, but today as a Black man living in D.C. that doesn't make a difference to me in the end. I'm still struggling."
As abolitionist Frederick Douglass said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." Progressive people must unite to fight attacks on all the oppressed.
The 50th-anniversary mobilization marked a historic date in the struggles for economic and social justice. The anger and passion of the multitudes of people who descended on the Capitol showed that the struggle is not over. Rights can and should be fought for and won under capitalism while the wealthy elites have power. But only the economic and social transformation of capitalism into socialism will bring about true justice for all people.
Neither jobs nor freedom for Black people in capitalist America: The unfulfilled tasks of the 1963 March on Washington
By Eugene Puryear
On Aug. 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands participated in the massive March on Washington, which many call the high point of the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement radically transformed society, but any honest appraisal will admit that we still have not achieved its central demands: jobs, freedom and equality. And so, 50 years later, we are still marching.
The speech that was not given
The March on Washington is best known for the “I Have a Dream” speech, but today it may be more useful to remember the speech that was not given.
John Lewis and other youth activists of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee had drafted a speech for that day that was heavily censored for its “immoderate” tone. In its original form, it began, “We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here. They have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages or no wages at all.”
Calling the drafted civil rights bill “too little, too late,” it made the point that, “There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.” On the basics of economic security, he asked, “What is there in this bill to ensure the equality of a maid who earns $5 a week in a home whose income is $100,000 a year?”
Explaining that a “serious revolution” was “at hand,” the original speech warned against all attempts to “take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts.” The speech made clear that both the Republican and Democratic parties were filled with “cheap political leaders” with no real interest in overturning the social and economic exploitation facing the Black masses.
The content of this speech was too explosive, too dynamic and revolutionary, for those who feared it would alienate the Black struggle’s half-way “friends” in Washington. Although its analysis remains relevant, it is a sad fact that many would oppose such a speech today for the very same reasons.
The unfinished Civil Rights revolution
The heroism of the Civil Rights Movement produced real results. Jim Crow apartheid was overthrown.
African Americans in the South won the right to vote. In every corner of the country, U.S. society was forced to come face to face with the inequality and injustice on which it was built.
It inspired a new phase of radicalism and organizing both inside and outside the Black community. The movement initiated a decades-long challenge to the racist attitudes held by a large section of the white population.
Without the gains of that movement, it would be impossible to think of a Black president. There are African Americans in every level of government administration, from housing to education to the Justice Department. There are now also Black governors, and lots of Black mayors. There are Black judges, police chiefs and officers, prison guards and wardens. Although discrimination certainly persists, there are many Black faces in high places in the corporate world.
But what about the rest of us? Today, real unemployment is well above the headline number of 7.6 percent. In fact when you look at the employment-to-population ratio, just over 40 percent of those in the working age population are not working. Millions of workers have been forced into part-time jobs, so painfully under-employed that they might as well be unemployed.
For African Americans, the unemployment rate is nearly double that of whites. For Latinos, it is scarcely any better.
Landlords and real estate developers are more relentless today than ever before in gentrifying and displacing poor Black communities. Public housing remains dilapidated and inadequate.
The education system is still underfunded. Even those who “played by the rules” and are attempting to get a college education are facing rising tuitions and racist admissions policies.
Millions of African Americans bought houses only to face foreclosure because of the predatory banks.
In the economic crisis, the median Black family lost more than half of its wealth—a stunning and unprecedented loss of economic standing.
The rates of incarceration, tied to the never-ending police harassment of Black and Latino youth, have not gone down in recent decades. For every 1,000 Black men in the country, over 40 are incarcerated, while for every 1,000 white men, six are in prison.
Every 28 hours a Black man is killed extrajudicially by a police officer, security guard or vigilante. Add to that the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman and it is clear that the scales of justice are tipped entirely against Black people in the United States.