Last Wednesday, I participated in the 50th Anniversary March for Jobs and Justice in Washington D.C. I don’t know the official number of participants who attended the event, but I do know it gave me a reason to feel proud about the past, present and future of my culture and community.
If you follow me on my personal Twitter account, then you probably remember my play-by-play on the day of the March. However, I also feel compelled to offer my thoughts on the day here in my blog. Like the many arts & culture posts I’ve written about in the past, I want to share with others the details of what feeds my imagination and perspective, as well as capture the spark of such a unique event.
I attended the March for a number of reasons. The most shallow reason -- as I told a reporter for the Georgetown University Law Alumni Magazine -- was my desire to look back years later and say “I was there.” But more importantly, I wanted to say “Thank you. Thank you to all who fought, struggled and died so that I may have the opportunities that I enjoy today.”
Some have said the March on Saturday, August 24th was a protest, but the March on Wednesday, August 28th was a commemoration. I disagree. The spirit of the day felt like a perfect melding of both celebration and dissent. Last Wednesday, people of all ages, faiths, politics, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds came together to be heard, not just in a resounding chorus of “Thank You,” but also in a resolute declaration for change in the status quo.
This 50th Anniversary March for Jobs and Justice was always going to be different. It represented an evolution of ideas, people and community. None of which are perfect, but all of which deserve a voice.
I saw placards and banners speaking out on important issues such as:
Mandatory Sentencing laws
Trayvon Martin’s trial verdict
Voting Rights Act violations & changes
The War on Drugs
D.C. Voting Rights
Stop & Frisk laws
Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to John F. Kennedy to Harvey Milk dotted the March landscape. Whether you were a “Mormon for Love” or a “Muslim for Peace,” you saw a collective of people who weren’t there simply to trace the steps of the brave who came before them. You saw a people who were ready to carry the torch for the next 50 years.
I arrived at the starting point at 8am. After an hour of milling around, sharing stories of our journeys, and applauding the Marchers who were also present at the March in 1963, we began our route just after 9am. But not before a young man graciously took the microphone from an organizer and proposed to his girlfriend from the top steps at the Georgetown University Law Center. Down on bended knee, ring in hand and blushing from ear-to-ear, the young man (white) wanted all of us to share in the moment when he asked his girlfriend (black) for her hand in marriage. Now that’s a hell of a way to start a March!
I began the March at the back of the procession, but I’m very happy I did. Had I been anywhere else, I might’ve missed the hundreds of people who joined the March along the route. From 600 New Jersey NW to 15th & Constitution Ave., the line of Marchers grew so long, I couldn’t see the end after the first 6 blocks.
Students from KIPP programs joined us near the Department of Labor. Drummers on djembes and guitarists on banjos struck up with the crowd near Pennsylvania Ave. Countless people, who didn’t join the March, watched us from their office windows, doorways and rooftops. Some spectators held signs of support; others simply smiled and took pictures.
There were songs too. Some I knew. Others I had to ask fellow Marchers to identify. My ears recognized:
The younger Marchers belted out more secular songs, while their older counterparts chose more traditional and spiritual songs to sing. Regardless, students (tweens, teens and uni), retirees, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, atheists, wheelchair-bound, cane and walker-dependent, stroller and pram-dependent, Asian-Americans, Indians, blacks, whites, biracial, multi-ethnic, queer, straight and unsure all lifted their voice to sing songs that fit their message and worldview. The diversity was exhaustive and beautiful.
As the morning drew on, I began to see the 50th Anniversary March on Washington as a metaphor for America’s evolution. And to a lesser extent, the world’s evolution. At my hostel, I met two people visiting D.C. on holiday; one from South Africa and the other from the U.K. At the last minute, they both decided to join the March on the day of the event. Shifting their plans to take part, they were so excited to be in the right place at the right time for such a unique celebration of an amazing moment in history.
Their enthusiasm was refreshing in light of the few young people I met -- also at the hostel -- who chose to cling to their stereotypes, misinformation and prejudice. Needless to say, they did not participate in the March. It would be easy to lament about how the need for the March exists today, and it may very well exist another 5 decades from now. But that’s why we were there, on August 28th, 50 years later.
I am a realist. When it comes to social justice, a great deal of work lies ahead. I know it’s important to remember that the freedom (no matter how tenuous) we enjoy today, did not come overnight. Not more than three weeks after the 1963 March on Washington, four little girls lost their lives in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. In a true fight for justice, often, it gets worse before it gets better. However, as Rep. John Lewis shared with the Marchers that afternoon, it does get better. Things have changed, and they will continue to change if we are willing to do the work.
At 8am, the Marchers arrive at the Georgetown University Law Center steps on 600 New Jersey NW. We began small, but grew mighty.
This Marcher with the Travyon Martin trial-protest sign gave up her plane ticket when the airline said she couldn't bring her sign on the plane. She drove overnight from Louisiana to Washington D.C. instead. She earned a lot of respect from the crowd.
Marchers traveled from near and far to participate on Wednesday. In the forefront, Drew (young white man on the left) traveled on a 20-hour Greyhound bus ride from Michigan. Next to him, Trina marches alongside. She traveled from nearby Maryland to join the event.
These two marchers didn't just say it with words. Addressing the issue of mass incarceration, they struck a powerful chord with everyone around them, as countless numbers of people snapped photo after photo.
It was muggy and rainy (typical for Washington D.C. in the summertime), but that didn't stop onlookers from escaping their offices on a Wednesday morning to watch the March from their windows, doorways and rooftops.
Many protest signs called for the end of the War on Drugs, as well as mandatory sentencing laws.
It was great to see Harvey Milk's spirit represented at the March. I think he would be proud to see the fight continue.
I posted this photo in last week's Lotus Moment. It's two city workers taking photos of the Marchers with their cameras and smartphones by request. I loved this moment. It felt truly spontaneous and special.
Unfortunately, I did not capture this as well in the low light of day as I'd hoped. But it's much too powerful an image to not include here.
Harry and his wife traveled from Minneapolis, MN. They were married in a small town in Minnesota in 1974. She said they were the talk of the town back then. But they now have a beautiful family and a life they wouldn't trade for the world.
I apologize for the lack of color correction on the photos. Please feel free to share the images. I only ask that you credit me (Candace Nicholson) and link back to this blog post directly if you wish to use them elsewhere. Thanks!