A New Moment for Social Justice

Maybe I’m a protest/rally freak, and I don’t think that I’m alone. Wherever there are people practicing their democratic right to assemble and their revolutionary duty to resist oppression in its varying forms, I feel the need to be there. I’ve carried signs and chanted songs, garnered a t-shirt or two here and there, pumped my fist as I marched in the streets with like-minded folk… and then, I went home. I went home each time discovering feelings of disillusionment and the huge “what now?” that, because of its overwhelming import, leads me back to business as usual: giving money and time to “this” (which isn’t so bad because “this” needs money and time), critically analyzing “that” (because, really, “that” needs critical analysis), without doing the hard work of continuing the protest without the crowds, megatron screens and sing-alongs to cheer me on.

This “Realize the Dream” March on Washington, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, almost proved no different for me, until I engaged my husband in conversation about what we’d experienced. He, too, seemed disillusioned by the experience and I asked him, because he knows all things history, what was the difference between the march in 1963 and this gathering today? We talked about what Martin Luther King, Jr. would’ve called “the urgency of now,” that doesn’t seem to exist in many American’s lives as oppression takes on more covert forms in 2013. We talked about what effect using the term “commemoration” has on the psyche of participants who may have been expecting more of a remembrance (which can be subversive when done with intentionality and purpose), and less of a continuation of a revolution. We talked about what organizing for a protest/rally looks like when done properly, which led me to a greater thought: the 1963 March on Washington was not a random occurrence or a result of happenstance. It occurred to me that perhaps the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom existed and has such a lasting impact because in 1961, there was a bus boycott in Selma. This March for Jobs and Freedom carries the legacy it does because for nearly a decade prior to this gathering, young people took to the streets, courageously facing fire hoses and cruel hatred, and their sacrifices were the foundation for this peak moment in the movement for justice. Perhaps, this 1963 March was what it was because those who gathered were already deeply engaged, were educated by their leaders about the injustices of their day and were often trained on how to confront and resist these evils. A fire was kindled throughout the south, and in the north by the leadership of other like-minded organizations. These fires converged on Washington, DC and a memorable moment was birthed.

I came to the conclusion that things like the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom don’t just happen because someone planned it and passed out fliers. They are the culmination of hard work and struggle and overcoming, until, by God’s grace, an unforgettable moment, an opportune moment occurs that, like a really good dream that cannot be reentered after you wake, cannot be reduplicated. The difference was that the people were on one accord after struggling together, though in their various locations. It seems the same organized struggle has not occurred in the years leading up to this “Realizing the Dream” March; disillusionment, “what now,” and “business as usual” await us unless we do something different.

I walk away from the 2013 March on Washington convinced that our time calls for a new opportune moment, brought about by justice-seekers gathering together wherever they may be in America (or in the world) in small groups, working, building relationships, struggling together, dialoguing, disagreeing, agreeing and celebrating until we see the transformation we seek.

Perhaps our moment will come through our commitment to stand with African-American youth for their safety and self-worth through existing organizations such as SNUG or Street Corner Resources, both of whom use relationship-building and empowerment as key components in their mission to end violence in their communities. Maybe the movement toward justice draws closer to another opportune moment as we speak out and rally against sexuality-based hate crimes, much like Tuesday’s rally after the beating death of a 21-year-old transgender woman two weeks ago in Harlem. The opportune moment even becomes more possible when we gather on Labor Day weekend for the Community Meal, and persist in the work of confronting economic disparities, as well as the systematic structures that enable/maintain the disparities (sign up online to volunteer at http://cotv.volunteerhub.com/). Movements for justice are all around us; our choosing to be engaged in them and knowledgeable about what is going on in our very communities is what makes the difference between a commemoration and a revolution.

I encourage each of us to start, or continue, to organize like never before, right where we are, for a society more reflective of God’s reign… then, a rallying of the thousands of us will have a lasting impact on our individual and collective lives, and our his/herstory.