“Based upon the speeches during the main portion of today’s events there can be little doubt that the Dr. King who was murdered in Memphis in 1968 would not have been allowed to speak at this fiftieth-anniversary commemoration of his life,” The Nation’s Dave Zirin wrote of Saturday’s March on Washington.
“There was no discussion of the ‘evil triplets’ [of militarism, materialism and racism],” Zirin, who attended the march, continued. “Instead, we had far too many speakers pay homage to the narrowest possible liberal agenda in broad abstractions with none of the searing material truths that make Dr. King’s speeches so bracing even today.”
Zirin couldn’t listen to Rep. Nancy Pelosi speak without thinking of her defense of the NSA’s spying program. The presence of Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, a best friend of Wall Street, was at odds with King’s recognition that “The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.” And the 30 minutes granted to Attorney General Eric Holder, “the person who is not bringing federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman,” brought to Zirin’s mind the fact that “it has taken five years for him to say anything about mass incarceration in this country.
At the original march in 1963, lead organizer Bayard Rustin insisted that no politicians or political appointees be allowed to speak. The differences between that event and this year’s show “there were different principles at work today.”
The day was symbolized for me on multiple levels by seeing DC Park police seize 200 professionally printed placards from activists that were distributing them for free. The placards read, “Stop Mass Incarceration. Stop the new Jim Crow.” Police said that it was “unlawful solicitation”, even though organizers were clearly giving them away. When those having their signs seized complained, they were threatened with fines or arrest. I heard one DC police officer say, “Hey, you can get them back at the end of the day. On second thought, given your attitude you cannot. “
I have never seen free placards confiscated at a national gathering by DC police. Then again, I’ve also never seen a demonstration so thickly monitored, with park police, the Department of Homeland Security and the military on every corner.
Today, those “triplets of evil” King warned us about 1967 still strangle this country. If we are not talking about the New Jim Crow, Wall Street and militarism, then what are we doing? King said, “If an American is concerned only about his nation, he will not be concerned about the peoples of Asia, Africa, or South America. Is this not why nations engage in the madness of war without the slightest sense of penitence? Is this not why the murder of a citizen of your own nation is a crime, but the murder of citizens of another nation in war is an act of heroic virtue?” Given US foreign policy, how can one say that they stand in King’s legacy and not raise these issues?
I would ask those who find this objectionable to ask themselves, “What would Dr. King/Ella Baker/Fannie Lou Hamer/Malcolm X think about today’s march?” I don’t presume to know the answer to that question, but I know that we only honor their memory by asking it.