Aug. 28 marks the 50th Anniversary of the historic march on Washington, remembered most as the moment in which Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. While President Obama and other leaders will be commemorating the march on the actual anniversary date next Wednesday, even more will be paying tribute to the original march four days earlier, this Saturday, by participating in a reenactment of the march as the struggle for racial and economic justice continues.
I grew up mesmerized by the civil rights struggle, realizing in my youth that even the term “civil rights” is a little misleading because it sells short the ambition and vision of the movement, which included a deep commitment to economic justice. The cause of social and economic justice remains just as relevant today as in 1963. We too easily forget that the full name for the March on Washington was the March for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King and so many other civil rights leaders connected the dots between Jim Crow segregation, voter disenfranchisement, and economic inequality and poverty. They understood that inequality and injustice have a way of getting ingrained and recreating themselves, and in the process strangling opportunity and suffocating hope.
A great deal has transpired and been achieved in the 50 years since Dr. King approached the podium in Washington and said words that still reverberate across the world, “I Have a Dream …”
Thankfully, "separate but equal" is a vestige of the past; Jim Crow segregation is no longer the law of the land; and racial slurs and derogatory remarks are no longer acceptable. However, we must resist the temptation to hail this racial progress while ignoring to the racial pain that still erodes the full realization of the American dream for so many.
For some, marching may feel like a relic of a bygone era, in part because of a belief that it really doesn’t accomplish much. Today, we are more accustomed to marching to raise money for worthy causes than to protest injustice. Yet Dr. King and so many other civil rights champions understood that marching was necessary in order to expose and dramatize injustice that had become so commonplace and accepted. Now that injustice is seemingly more invisible and covert, marching continues to be a important act of solidarity and agitation to generate newfound urgency around the unfinished business of the movement.
I will march on Saturday because even after five decades of real progress, persistent racial inequalities have tragically gotten worse in many parts of American life. For example, unemployment among black Americans is still twice that of white Americans — standing at an alarming 11 percent. According to the Urban Institute, over the past 30 years, the average white family has gone from having five times as much wealth as the average black family to 6.5 times. A third of black children still grow up in the stifling quicksand of poverty. These statistics should spark moral indignation, but too often they cause the opposite effect by numbing us and breeding resignation.
I will march on Saturday because I refuse to allow my two sons to be treated as statistics or a stereotypes rather than as children of God. I will march because overly aggressive policing tactics that overly rely upon racial profiling make a mockery of Dr. King’s dream that every child will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
I will march because the recent repeal of section four of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court jeopardizes the voting rights of millions of Americans across the country, particularly in southern states where new barriers to this sacred right are already being erected.
I will march because based on national statistics, my two black boys face a one in three chance of spending some time of their lives behind bars, a disturbing and destructive reality that has been made possible in part by mandatory drug sentencing laws that must be reevaluated and changed.
I will march because keeping 11 million undocumented immigrants in the shadows is neither right nor smart, and comprehensive legislation is desperately needed to fix our broken immigration system and provide an earned path to citizenship. I will march because while I celebrate that racial slurs and overt prejudice are no longer tolerated publicly, the more hidden and oftentimes more pernicious inequality and disparities that accompany race in America are still a persistent reality.
And yes, you too should march on Saturday — if not physically because you live too far away, or because marching isn’t your thing, then at least mentally and spiritually. You can march by lifting up prayers and with your subsequent actions on and beyond Aug. 24 because the beloved community is a vision worth striving and fighting for.
There will be no quick fixes or magic bullets to these challenges; however, we are all implicated and must all be a part of the solution. You should march because, as Dr. King so poetically proclaimed, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice to everywhere. You should march because as the Apostle Paul reminds us, if one part of the body suffers, all members suffer with it. You should march because a house divided against itself cannot stand, and sadly our nation is still a house divided in need of repair through a deeper commitment to racial reconciliation and justice.
I used to view participation in and support for the march on Washington as being a litmus test of my parents' generation’s commitment to justice. I realize now that this was short-sighted and overly judgmental, but from a young activist’s point of view, there is no other place a person committed to equal rights and justice should have been on that hot, steamy August day in 1963. If you were to poll my parents' generation, the vast majority would say that they supported the march and come up with many reasons for why they weren’t there.
I wonder whether Saturday’s march will take on a similar meaning for my and future generations.
Adam Taylor is on the Sojourners board of directors.
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