By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - A red, black and green flag flapping in the sweltering Saturday afternoon breeze said it all in the one word embroidered on its front - “Justice.” That one word encompassed the sentiments of the throng of thousands who weaved for miles through the streets of Washington, D.C. behind civil rights leaders, chanting, singing and shouting demands from the powers that be.
“What do we want? … Justice! … When do we want it? … Now!”
This was the clarion call that went out from Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally and march, adding fuel to an obvious rekindling of a movement to refocus attention back on the plight of the historically oppressed – largely Black people in America – and the disparities that are clear.
“You may remember that my father, in 1967 and early ‘68 was focused on economic empowerment, bringing together poor Blacks and poor Whites, and poor Native Americans and poor Americans from all walks of life. He did not live to see that come to fruition,” said Martin Luther King III after the march reached the MLK Memorial construction site. “But, today, 47 years since the marh on Washington, we are here talking about economic empowerment for all. And so, I hope that we understand as we observe in love that this is not about a left side or a right side. This is about God’s side in terms of doing that which is good, just and right for all of America. Not for a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, but for every American. That’s what Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was about.”
King III made that point with clarity as the “Reclaim the Dream” march was named as such because of a rally on the same day, led by Fox News host Glenn Beck, leader of the conservative Tea Party movement, which is widely known for its anti-Obama and perceptually anti-Black perspective. Tea Partiers were accused of hurling racial epithets at members of Congress as they crossed the street to the Capitol to cast their health care votes in March.
Little more than a mile from the majority Black “Reclaim the Dream” crowd, the Beck crowd stood on the Washington Mall in a “Restoring Honor” rally that drew a near-solidly White crowd to the same spot – the Lincoln Memorial – Where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Beck had said the date of his rally was a coincidence, but many saw it as disrespectful to the legacy of the civil rights leader.
“Well, they may have the mall, but we have the message. They may have the platform, but we have the dream,” said Sharpton at Dunbar high school where thousands gathered to prepare for the trek. “If you understood dreaming, you can dream anywhere. We don’t have to be at the spot. All we need to be is who we are. We can dream from jail cells. We can dream from hospital beds. We can dream wherever we are!”
Saturday’s march to the King Memorial, another in Detroit with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and yet another on Sunday in the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, underscored Sharpton’s point that people around the nation – wherever they are – are daring to mobilize. Many are preparing to vote in mid-term elections Nov. 2. Others are simply feeling the need to do something as they come to the realization that racial disparities in just about every category are nearly as outrageous as they were 40 years ago.
Yet a “One Nation” march on Washington, led by the NAACP and some 200 other organizations around the nation will be held Oct. 2, illustrating the passion of this moment in history. “We need you back here on 10-2-10,” shouted Jealous to the crowd, citing the aim to “put our country back to work and pull our country back together!”
Other speakers included Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition for Black Civil Participation, Marc Morial of the National Urban League and radio talk show hosts Tom Joyner and Joe Madison, who emceed the rally at Dunbar.
Despite the focus on key issues of disparity, an overriding focus was the perceived insult by the Beck crowd whose philosophy led the anti-civil rights movement in the 60s.
Sharpton concluded, “While they are down there, they ought to have Abe Lincoln to tell them why he fought against state’s rights and held the union together. They ought to read Dr. King’s speech. And then they need to talk to some of us who came up the rough side of the mountain. That’s why we’re marching. Somebody said there’s no trouble today. Ain’t no trouble. We wouldn’t disgrace today by allowing you to provoke us. No matter what you say, no matter what you do, we’re going to celebrate those who laid down their lives to give us a chance.”