The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
Today I walked with thousands of people from all over the country along a route filled with historical landmarks and present-day reminders of economic, racial and systemic injustice; -thinking of how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. It was fifty years later, to the day, of the March on Washington in 1963. The main stretch of the 1.6 mile route took us down Constitution Avenue past the Dept. of Labor, the U.S. Courthouse, the Federal Trade Commission and the Dept. of (what passes for) Justice.
At the head of the march was a group of students from the Washington Dupont Park Adventist School. It must have been quite an extraordinary day for them. Perhaps some of them will attend the one fifty years from now, much like the people they were marching right in front of. For, walking behind them, and perhaps just a tad slower than they had in 1963, was a line of seniors, arms linked, who had all been to the original march fifty years ago as children, college students, young adults and organizers. They braved the stormy skies and once again commanded Constitution Avenue; there for each other, there for those who could not be there. There for those who would come after. A sea of umbrellas and conversations followed, as the numbers packed the westbound lanes and spilled across the sidewalks.
We crossed 14th St. and walked by the construction site where the Museum of African American History will one day be, en route to the Washington Monument, which has been under scaffolding for so long. Passing the Washington Monument, we headed towards the end of our march, the promise of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. Instead we came to a stop at the edge of the war memorials, where the crowd backed up and swelled across the greens.
It took us a minute to piece it together. The bottleneck was the security entrances to get into the war memorial area and make it to the Lincoln Memorial where a day’s worth of public faces and not-so-public faces would be performing and speaking: dignitaries, humanitarians, current and past presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, and others. After an hour of walking through the stalled crowd listening to inspiring stories of 1963, frank language on the current state of things (one sign stated plainly, “Dr. King wouldn’t vote for war criminals”) and multi-generational and multi-cultural aspirations for a better future, I headed north in the light rain. Videos and transcripts would be online to watch by the evening. As the P.A. speakers receded into the background, I made my way past the Elipse and then by the Treasury en route to catch my bus.
Hoping for a better and more just tomorrow, but quite cognizant that hope and patience can dull the needed immediacy and let us settle for less. A number of the most important pressing social issues, whether it be justice and jobs, or corporate accountability and the environment, tend to take front-stage only when there’s an anniversary or a tragedy. Then it dominates a news cycle and slips into the background. But the work is always there, waiting to be done. Many young attendees’ lives were inspired today to think about and wage that struggle, just as many of the original civil rights and economic justice activists from the 1960’s could look all around them today and see the difference, however incomplete it might seem, that they have already made over their lifetimes. And hopefully sooner than later, we’ll stop kicking that can down the road. The times demand it. Justice demands it.
All photos by Jeff Creamer, Life Is Melody.