Notes from the March on Washington

Watched MSNBC coverage of 50th anniversary of “I Have a Dream” speech rally and march on Washington. Missed speakers who were deemed less important than TV commentators but too notes on the other. Best speeches: Marc Morial, Cory Booker, Merlie Evers-Williams, John Lewis, Asean Johnson, Martin Luther King III, and Al Sharpton (listed in the order they spoke). Big winners: Black-GLBT coalition. We will no longer hear arguments about who suffered more from leaders of either community and both communities will flourish together. Which leads to biggest surprise: that there was no representative of the GLBT community on the program. Another big winner: Al Sharpton: gave a great speech, deserves respect, cemented his position as a leader—or the leader; I can’t presume to know—of this civil rights generation. Another big winner: the multiracial, multigenerational crowd. Biggest losers: Republicans, none of whom spoke. They no longer (as if they ever did) can claim any moral authority to speak on any moral issue. And I’m being kind in my assessment.

Here are my notes:

Just heard the speech by Ben Jealous of NAACP. Either he was nervous or unprepared but I hope they get better from here on in. Best feature: He kept it short.

* * *

Good speech by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) Ohio. “It is time for us to get uncomfortable…. Civil Rights is unfinished business. It’s time to make it our business.” Ohio is one of the reactionary hotbeds today. Not real proud of my home state. Glad she’s around though.

* * *

Nice speech by Attorney General Eric Holder. Gave overview of history of Civil Rights Movement. Noted that it now includes women, Latinos, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, and others. “We stand on shoulders of untold millions” of others who sacrificed their lives so others could live free. Gives credit to them for his and his boss’s jobs. Talks about shaping the future that builds on past achievements. Pays note to need to guarantee voting rights but doesn’t say anything about going after bankers who have stolen the futures that Civil Rights activists fought and died for. Overall, though, decent speech. Good presentation, looks respectable.

* * *

Marc Morial, CEO, National Urban League: “We must redeem the dream” so our children can live in communities without excess gun violence, be well educated, have full economic opportunity. “We must stand our ground” against forces that seek to push back the clock. Best speech so far.

* * *

Mayor Cory Booker, candidate for senator of New Jersey: Notes father’s constant reminder to him to never forget that he is reaping benefits of those who came before. “The dream still demands” that there is much to do. “We still have work to do” is his repeated mantra in reference to gun violence, wages stagnating, economic inequality, toxic environments. “My generation can’t sit back thinking that democracy is a spectator sport.” “We can’t get caught in state of sedentary agitation.” Includes gays and lesbians. This will be a regular appeal today. No longer will there be a divide between the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement after today. Excellent speech.

* * *

Steny Hoyer, chair and ranking Democrat in Congress: Recalls MLK saying that 1963 was a beginning, not an end. We will not rest. That is our pledge in 1963 and that is still our pledge. Hardly my favorite elected official but it was a decent speech. Then Nancy Pelosi: She’s always a crowd favorite. She was here 50 years ago. I didn’t know that. Recalls King saying “we won’t take the tranquility drug of gradualism.” Notes progress: 5 African-American members then, now 45 plus Black Caucus. Calls for paid sick leave for workers, quality health care so power of women can be unleashed. Notes that this is Women’s Equality Weekend. Need to correct what Supreme Court did to voting rights.

* * *

Merlie Evers-Williams, widow of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers: “What are we doing today? Where have we come from? What has been accomplished? Where do we go from this point forward?” Thinks of “Stand your ground.” “Flip that coin and make ‘Stand your ground’ a positive ring.” Stand our ground on gains we have made, to oppose efforts to turn back clock. She’s the second speaker (that was televised) who made reference. We’ll be hearing it throughout the day. “Assess where we are today” and stand your ground for justice, equality. Asks “Ain’t I a woman,” quoting Sojourner Truth and then acknowledging women leaders Betty Shabazz, Rosa Parks, and others. “The strength of a tree come from its roots.” Notes young people in the audience. Calls on her (and my) generation to stand by them and bring them up. (National Writers Union: Let’s revive the mentorship program.) “Never become so depressed that we think we can’t make it.” Felt a tear when she referred to her murdered husband. Great speech.

* * *

John Lewis (only speaker at 50 years ago march): Doesn’t matter what he says; it will be great. Notes that today we have another fight. Must fight the good fight against people who want to take us back. “We’ve come too far.” Said back then one man, one vote. Said we can’t wait. Doesn’t matter now if straight or gay, all live in same house. We can’t give in. He gave blood on bridge in Selma, Alabama. Won’t let Supreme Court take away that right. We must make noise. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool of a democratic society. We must use it. Congress must fix Voting Rights Act, pass comprehensive immigration reform. Keep the faith. I got arrested 40 times in the sixties, got bloodied. Ready to fight on “as you must fight.” Phew. Best speech so far.

* * *

Asean Johnson, 9 year old. Today’s youngest speaker, following Rep. Lewis, last march’s youngest speaker. That did it. I cried. “Every child deserves a great education. Every school deserves equal funding and resources.” Keep MLK’s dream alive. Ed Schultz calls him a gift from God.

* * *

Lee Saunders, President, AFSCME: The promise of democracy has not been made real for all of us, including people who work hard, play by the rules, retirees who don’t know how they’ll make it, students who graduate with huge debt. “If it’s not real for all of us, it’s not real for any of us.” March to live not in fear, where citizens are respected, jobs pay fair wages. “Don’t simply commemorate; agitate. Don’t memorialize’ mobilize…. Let us restore the American dream.”

* * *

Martin Luther King III: Father’s words “etched in eternity and echo through ages, tribute to tenacity of intrepid people who, though oppressed, refused to stay in bondage” (not sure if this is exact quote or paraphrase). This is not time for nostalgia or celebration. Can and must do more. Father said looked to day when his four children would be judged by character, not color skin. Segue to Trayvon Martin and call to repeal Stand Your Ground legislation, immigration reform must be passed, voting rights must be secured. “Fight back boldly.” “Heroes and sheroes fought and died.” We must not rest until Civil Rights Act restored. Dream far from being realized. Calls attention to city of my birth, Detroit, now under siege by state government. America needs a new Marshall Plan to recover. No more senseless Newtowns and Columbines, killings of young people by young people. More gun control but also more love. All colors. Gay and straight. All religions. “We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.” Quotes dad: “The arc of justice is long but it does bend toward justice.” Speeches getting better and better.

* * *

Rev Al Sharpton, keynote speaker, president of National Action Network: Some came to Wahington and couldn’t buy coffee until cross Mason-Dixon line, couldn’t find hotel to rest, saw friends’ blood shed. We owe them for what we have today. “You got where you are today because some educated women who never saw a college campus put their bodies on the line.” Wen want to rewrite Voting Rights Act and protect right to vote. Need federal law to undo what Supreme Court did. Always had voter ID. Why do we need special ID now that we got to Obama. Second, need jobs. “Folks want to work and earn for their families.” We redeposited check that MLK noted had bounced. It bounced again. Marked insufficient payment. Gave benefits to banks, the rich, the 1%. But not to Head Start, municipal workers, teachers. We will make check good or close down banks. Third, build what must be build around gun violence. Fight against recklessness that makes us so insensitive that we kill each other for no reason.” Medgar Evers and other did not give their lives to give young the right to be thugs and hoodlums. Don’t disrespect your women no matter how much money they give you. “Rosa Parks was no ho and Fanny Lou Hamer was no bitch.” Clean up our house and then we can clean up America. Need to expand coalition. “Bogus argument” about who suffered more. “We all need to unite and get well together.” Dreams are those who won’t accept what is and want to change reality. We need to give our young dreams again. Will register voters in all states. Need to flip folks in Congress, like his mom taught him to flip pancakes. Our votes soaked in the blood of martyrs. All America for straight whites who only speak English has passed away. We’re gonna bring a new America with liberty and justice for all. It’s time to march register, vote for a new America. We’re on our way. At end of speech, pays tribute to Joseph Lowrey, one of the heroes who didn’t get recognition then but now received Medal of Freedom from first black president.

* * *

C.T. Vivian, close friend of MLK: This anniversary is reminder that we didn’t have as many leaders then. Must think what we will do when we go home. Changing America became the greatest drama of the time and we won. Greatest spiritual leaders in America has been by African Americans. Our methods worked. If we choose, we can create the future. The problems we have to solve immediately will give us victories to solve the long-term problems. Can’t allow 45% of young people to drop out of high school. Quotes W.E.B. Du Bois: “We are a small nation within.” If we organize now, the future is ours.

* * *

Joseph Lowery, founder, SCLC, talking from wheelchair: Quotes: “Everything has changed and nothing has changed.” That’s where we are today. We’re here in Washington for two reasons: to commemorate, but go home to agitate, to complete unfinished tasks. Repeats it over and over until crowd realizes he’s trying to get them to chant. We’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go. Sharpton again, brings families of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin to the stand. Emmett’s cousin: We aint’ gonna run. We’re gonna change the system. Trayvon’s mother: He’s all of our son and we have to fight for our children. Bernice King prayer: Help us to overcome our differences, stomp on enemies of progress and unity and inequality, violence and crime. We won’t get weary. Great right until the end: “In Jesus’s name we pray. Sorry, I don’t pray in Jesus’s name. Why can’t a Christian give a prayer that is for everyone? Downer end to otherwise inspirational program.

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