The Anniversary Marches on Washington 1983-2013
A week ago, the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was commemorated in two events. The first event was organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton the Saturday before the actual anniversary. During the three hours prior to the actual program, a variety of groups were allowed to speak for a brief period of time, with a go-go music cut off once that period was reached. In the afternoon the focus seemed to be on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the honoring of some of the old timers from the original march. Rev. Al has still not let go of this issue and is treating it in much the same way he treated the Trawlana Brawley incident, which brought him to prominence. An actual procession followed, as occurred in 1963 - although starting it was like watching paint dry. I doubt no one was watching it at the end.
Prior to the March on Saturday, there was a rally for DC statehood, which was both well attended and well covered. The event at the actual anniversary was controlled by the King family, who maintain a tight control on their father's legacy. For the first time, President's were invited to speak. President's Carter, Clinton and Obama attended. The two Bushes passed due to recent hospitalizations and none of the Republican office holders invited bothered to attend - which was likely just as well, as the crowd may not have been friendly. President Obama said what Dr. King or Bill Cosby might have said during his remarks. He certainly did not come with a list of presidential promises. It was an interesting speech.
The first of the anniversay speeches took place during the Reagan term in 1983. (There was no March in 73 - indeed the anti-war marches had ended because US forces were out of Viet Nam - instead everyone was watching the Watergate Hearings)This march was partly in response to the economy and partly to pressure President Reagan to support the King Holiday, which he eventually did.
My first March was in 93. Clinton was not invited to speak, so inviting him in the recent march makes up for that. I particpated on the DC organizing committee, volunteering in the office and putting up march posters. I also coordinated the DC gathering and statehood event - although most people simply went to the Lincoln Memorial on their own. Still, as a marshal I had a good view working the perimenter. It was a very hot day.
The topic of the 93 March was Jobs, Justice and Peace, with a statehood undercurrent due to the participation of Sharon Pratt Kelly. Indeed, the quesiton of statehood did come to a vote that year, although it did not pass the House or be considered by the Senate. In my view the statehood bill was and is still flawed - both because it leaves too much of the federal core in federal hands (and outside the taxing authority of the new state) and because it does not include as part of the ratification process consideration by the Maryland General Assembly of retrocession - which they would most assuredly reject. If this were included, the main Republican objection, outside racism, would be dealt with and they could be pressured into voting Aye by playing the race card.
After the March I went to the Democratic Socialists of America reception at an Irish bar on Dupont Circle. At this event I met the local DSA chair at the time and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Chair Lawrence Guyot. We had all been marshals on the front line, so we all had the same shirts on. Lawrence is gone rather recently, DSA is still there - but with younger leadership and I still have that blue shirt someplace.
In 2003 my daughter was only four weeks old when the march happened, so I took a pass on organizing and attending. Interestingly enough, Mark Thompson, who I knew from Stand Up for Washington DC! was the organizer and chair. Had I known, I might have gotten more involved, although that year family comes first - which is likely why we did not see him this year either as his parcel of kids has grown more than mine.