Economic justice and the March on Washington

Correction:  I refer to today as if it were the 28th.  The date I posted this is the 27th.  I seem to not know what day it is!

 

The official name of the march we celebrate today is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Notice what comes first.  Jobs.  And while no one can deny that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a brilliant leader who served as a public face for the civil rights movement, we tend to forget that when he was assassinated in Memphis he was there to support sanitation workers striking for higher wages and employment rights.  Dr. King had moved past the simple movement for integration of public facilities and voting rights to understand that gaining equality meant a great deal more that sitting at a lunch counter or riding in the front of a bus.  Yes, those were monumental achievements, but true equality also means economic justice.

One man to whom we owe the March on Washington 50 years ago today is someone few have heard of:  Asa Philip Randolph.  Jack Curtis celebrated him in last Sunday’s Boston Globe.  The headline and subhead kinda of say it all:

Economic equality: What the March on Washington didn’t win

Fifty years later, why we remember King and not A. Philip Randolph

Rep. Byron Rushing (left) from Roxbury and John Dukakais at the unveiling of the A. Phillip Randolph statue in Boston’s Back Bay Station.

Rep. Byron Rushing (left) from Roxbury and John Dukakais at the unveiling of the A. Phillip Randolph statue in Boston’s Back Bay Station.

Today we can still point to the high unemployment rates, the lack of health care in many places, the failing schools and know that black Americans suffer the most.

The director of the march and its opening speaker, A. (for Asa) Philip Randolph (1889 – 1979) was established by 1963 as the century’s preeminent force on black labor and the dean of American civil rights leaders. Born in Crescent City, Fla., the son of a minister and a seamstress, Randolph moved in 1911 to Harlem, where he became a staunch socialist, a labor organizer, and a renowned soapbox orator. In 1925, Randolph was named the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which he guided for over four decades.

In 1941, Randolph leapt onto the national stage. He and his fellow activist Bayard Rustin initiated what they called the March on Washington Movement, or MOWM, with the goal of staging a massive march to protest racial discrimination in the armed forces and defense industries. An alarmed Franklin Roosevelt summoned Randolph to the White House. Just one week later, Roosevelt issued an order prohibiting workplace discrimination throughout the nation’s defense industries, which led Randolph to call off the scheduled march
MOWM lasted only through 1946. But in the 1960s, as the nation’s African-Americans faced high unemployment and low wages and the country was shocked by violent attacks on civil rights demonstrators in the South, Randolph and Rustin turned to the same organizing tactics. In early 1963, Rustin and three associates addressed a memo to Randolph, then 74, calling for “mass descent” upon Washington, with 100,000 participants protesting “the economic subordination of the American Negro.” They envisioned a groundswell of protest calling for freedom and jobs.  Randolph and Rustin, aided by labor organizers and civil rights activists, organized the march with the dual goals of ending racial segregation and discrimination in the Jim Crow South and achieving economic equality for all Americans.
Randolph was a union organizer and Bayard Rustin (someone else you may never have heard of), often called “brother outsider” was a pacifist and gay.  Together they put together the event now best known for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech.  Rustin was also a major influence in bringing Dr. King  to embrace non violence.
Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.  in 1956

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.
in 1956

In February 1956, when Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery to assist with the nascent bus boycott, Martin Luther King, Jr. had not personally embraced nonviolence. In fact, there were guns inside King’s house, and armed guards posted at his doors. Rustin persuaded boycott leaders to adopt complete nonviolence, teaching them Gandhian nonviolent direct protest.
Rustin was the speaker who read the list of the marcher’s demands.  You can read or listen to the transcript of Rustin reading the list of the demands in this link from WGBH radio.   They were seen as quite militant and including a living minimum wage. We all recited the pledge that committed ourselves to action.  I think it was in our programs.  (I found my button but so far haven’t located my program.)
As you watch the 50th anniversary coverage, remember A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.  Without them, we would not be celebrating this important milestone today,  We can honor them by supporting the continuing fight for economic justice.
Jack Curtis concludes

But King’s emphasis on integration and legal equality gradually came to be seen as the primary impetus for the movement. In the years since, the optimistic and basically patriotic appeal of King’s speech has served to eclipse the march’s agenda and distort the popular understanding of its significant challenge to the status quo. The standard narrative skirts the more controversial, no less patriotic, themes of the march, and the radicalism that was front and center that day.

Randolph’s legacy is not forgotten, including in Boston. In the waiting area of Back Bay Station sits a larger-than life statue of Randolph by sculptor Tina Allen, dedicated in 1988 by Governor Michael Dukakis. Speakers at the dedication ceremony, including state Representative Byron Rushing, hailed the contributions to the railroad industry by porters and waiters from the black community, many of whom had lived in the Roxbury and South End neighborhoods by the station. A quote inscribed in the monument’s base attests to Randolph’s militant stance: “Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given. It is exacted.”

As we look back over the last 50 years, and look around at a country with rising and racially inflected economic inequality, that revolutionary spirit sits less easily than the hope of King’s “dream speech.” We embrace King’s dream in part because we sense that the country has indeed gone some way down that long road to freedom, and his vision can still set us dreaming and move us forward. But focusing on the demands by Randolph that fell to the wayside, we see even more glaringly that the march’s core aims of economic justice are not close to fruition; even today, we stand at the start of that path. It’s been a long time coming, and it may be a long time yet to come.

Photograph:  Randolph Statue John Tlumacki/Globe staff
Photography:  Rustin and King Associated Press

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: My memories

Fifty years ago I was a sixteen year old high school student living in New Jersey.  My parents were community activists and very politically involved.  My mother and several of her friends decided to go to Washington for the march and took me and several of my high school friends.  I know there was some discussion about whether the march would turn violent and some calls were made (and long distance was a big deal back then) to my uncle who lived in D.C.  He must have reassured them and said that he had signed up to make sandwiches to give out to people who didn’t bring their own.  I remember being impressed because he was still a bachelor and, as far as I knew, wasn’t much of a cook.

So we kids were allowed to go along.  I remember the bus ride as long and the bathrooms at the Maryland House really horrible.  When we got to Washington, we asked to go off on our own and set off with a thermos jug of ice water (No bottles of water back then, just a jug and paper cups)  and some bags of oranges and peanut butter and jelly (they wouldn’t spoil in the hot weather) and set off.  It was an interesting little group:  me (Japanese American), at least one African American girlfriend, and several white American boys.  We wormed our way toward the front of where the march was to start instead of going to the end.  I remember people shouting and seeing the folks from the famous picture of the front of the march go by.  We fell in behind them.  I later learned that some people had already started marching and the dignitaries were trying to catch up.

Baez and Dylan

Baez and Dylan

Once we got to the Lincoln Memorial, we first found a spot to sit near some trees, but we soon moved closer to the Reflecting Pool so we could see better.  As it got hotter, and it was very hot,  we joined many by putting our feet in the pool.  We were pretty close to the front, close enough to see Joan Baez and Bob Dylan as well as Marion Anderson and Mahalia Jackson.  We heard rumors that President Kennedy was going to come join us.

I’ll be honest and say that there were a lot, a huge number, of speeches.  I don’t remember very many of them, to be honest.  I know that I was excited to hear and see Myrlie Evers, Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates as part of a tribute to women of the Movement.  But the speech that I remember best was not the famous one given by Martin Luther King, Jr.  The one I remember most clearly was given by John Lewis.   I think that was because he was with the Southern Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and I had met SNCC organizers.  Also he was young and had been arrested many times.  I had no idea at the time the speech was given that it had been censored, but it was still the most militant speech given that day.  He ended

To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that we  cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually but we want to  be free now.

We are tired. We are tired of being beat by policemen. We are tired of  seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again, and then you  holler “Be patient.” How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and  we want it now.

We do not want to go to jail, but we will go to jail if this is the  price we must pay for love, brotherhood and true peace. I appeal to all  of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation.  Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet  of this nation until true freedom comes, until a revolution is complete.  We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution. In the Delta  of Mississippi, in Southwest Georgia, in the Black Belt of Alabama, in  Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and all over this nation the  black masses are on a march for jobs and freedom.

John Lewis at the Lincoln Memorial, 1963

John Lewis at the Lincoln Memorial, 1963

They’re talking about slow down and stop. We will not stop. All of the  forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond will not stop this  revolution. If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this  Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our march into  Washington. We will march through the South, through the streets of  Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of  Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the  spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here  today.

By the forces of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we  shall send a desegregated South into a thousand pieces, put them  together in the image of God and Democracy. We must say wake up America,  wake up! For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.

I still carry that image in my mind.  A young black man thundering, “We want our freedom and we want it now.”   But if he had included words he had wanted to include it is likely that the microphone would have been cut off.  The original text included

I want to know, which side is the federal government on?

The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of  political and economic slavery. The nonviolent revolution is saying, “We  will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for  hundreds of years. We will not wait for the President, the Justice  Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands  and create a source of power, outside of any national structure, that  could and would assure us a victory.”

At sixteen those words would have sounded so much better than “I have a dream.”

View of the Lincoln Memorial

View of the Lincoln Memorial

I think this was taken relatively early in the day.  My friends and I were at the pool on the left, not too far back and for all I remember, we might already have been there when this was taken.

It was a long ride back to New Jersey and it turned out that I had heat exhaustion, but it was worth it to have been part of history.

There were about 250,000 people there and probably many more will claim that they were there, but I really was.  It was my first large demonstration, but by the time the War in Vietnam was winding down, I was a veteran at these events.  I’m not planning on attending the 50th Anniversary March this year, but I will be there in spirit.

Photograph:  Baez and Dylan uncredited from Wikipedia

Photograph:  John Lewis  Bettmann/ Corbis

Photograph:  Lincoln Memorial  Miles Hodges, Kingsacademy.com

Civil Rights and Gay Rights

In case you didn’t see it, Jonathan Capehart had an excellent and thoughtful essay in yesterday’s Washington Post.  Titled “Blacks and gays:  the shared struggle for civil rights”, it laid out the reasons why blacks (and I might add Asians, Hispanics and other minorities) need to support gay rights.  I am going to try to give you the highlights, but you really should read the entire essay.

It opens

You may recall that last month Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and I sparred over same-sex marriageon “Morning Joe.” You may also recall that at the end of the interview, the show’s anchor, Joe Scarborough, asked me, “[W]ould you compare the civil rights struggles of African Americans over 300 years in America to marriage equity?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.”

“It’s an issue of civil rights, as you said. It’s an issue of equality. It’s an issue of equal treatment under the law,” I said. “No one is asking for special rights. No one is asking for any kind of special favors. We’re just looking for the same rights and responsibilities that come with marriage and also the protections that are provided under marriage. In that regard overall we’re talking about a civil rights issue and what African Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are struggling with today.”

That didn’t go over so well with more than a few African Americans. They don’t see the struggles as comparable, equivalent or even related. Last Wednesday, @Brokenb4God tweeted to me, “@CapehartJ still can’t believe u think the choice of being gay is congruent to the struggle of blacks. Ain’t never seen no gay plantations!”

Clearly, she’s from the misguided pray-the-gay-away cabal, so no need to address that. I’ll leave the cheap and provocative “gay plantations” stink bomb alone, too, and get to my main point. What links the two struggles is the quest for equality, dignity and equal protection under the law. In short, gay rights are civil rights. It’s that simple.

Capehart goes through several points of similarity under topic headings:  “Bullying and Murder”, “Denied equal protection:  the right to marry” and finally, “Black leaders.”  He quotes Reverend Al Sharpton and John Lewis.  Lewis quoted Dr. Martin Luther King during the debate in 1996 on the Defense of Marriage Act. 

You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say when people talked about interracial marriages, and I quote, ‘Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.’ Why don’t you want your fellow men and women, your fellow Americans to be happy? Why do you attack them? Why do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams, their longings, their aspirations? We are talking about human beings, people like you, people who want to get married, buy a house, and spend their lives with the one they love. They have done no wrong.

Lewis supported Massachusetts activists during the debate over marriage equality.

In a 2003 opinion piece for the Boston Globe, Lewis wrote, “I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Much of the resistance to the Maryland Marriage Equality law came from black churches who are traditionally unwilling to acknowledge a gay and lesbian presence in their own communities.  One exception is my husband’s church, Union United Methodist in Boston.  Their pioneering was highlighted in this recent article in the Boston Globe

Eziah Karter-Sabir Blake swiped the play debit card through a plastic reader during a game of Monopoly recently. Another multimillion-dollar sale. The buyer, Giftson Joseph, rubbed his hands together, a glimmer creeping in his eyes as he playfully nudged the Rev. Catharine A. Cummings.

The three – one gay, one transgender, one straight – sat around a table at a new youth drop-in center at Union United Methodist Church, a historically black congregation in the South End, the heart of Boston’s gay community.

Simply by being there, the trio was straddling a divisive line between the gay community and the black church, where many gay and lesbian minorities have long felt ignored or unwelcome in the pews.

“It’s a big risk they are taking in the black community,’’ said Joseph, an 18-year-old African-American college student who is gay. “There’s already enough stigma in the church. But this is a church that is accepting of all races and sexual orientations.’’

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In 2000, Union began the process of educating themself about homosexuality and gay rights.

 In 2000, church member Hilda Evans pushed Union United to again change course, and the church agreed to defy United Methodist leaders by declaring itself an open and affirming congregation to gays and straight people alike. It held its first gay service in June 2007 at the height of the state’s same-sex marriage debate.

Other black church leaders and churches in Boston have not followed Union’s lead.  But as the Globe story pointed out

Union United has a long history of bucking tradition. In the 1800s, black worshipers walked out of their segregated Beacon Hill church home after whites grew uncomfortable and complained about their vibrant, African-style of worship. In 1818, members founded the May Street Church, which became a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to the church’s website,

What the Globe does not point out is Union’s civil rights activism during the 1960′s.  You can read about that in the J. Anthony Lukas classic, Common Ground..

It takes a long time for people to see themselves in someone else’s stuggle but we can look at Jonathan Capehart for his articulate arguments about what is right and to places like Union United Methodist Church for leading the way.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama and the State of the Union

At the 41st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Boston, Melissa Harris-Perry asked us to remember the picture of King with President Lyndon Johnson and to superimpose President Obama on one of the men.  After a brief pause to let us think about it, she said that if we had made King Obama we had picked the wrong person, that Obama was President just as Johnson had been. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

Image via Wikipedia

While, as Harris-Perry pointed out there are a number of parallels that can be drawn between King and Obama.   “Both men are brilliant orators, both had a unique ability to capture the American political imagination … and both endured harsh criticism.”  And I will add, both are Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Using King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, she pointed out

It was a period of backlash,” she said. “We were being told it was all moving too fast.

It is easy to behave as if Martin King was beloved in a bipartisan manner across races and communities — but that is not the reality of Dr. King..

But the primary difference is the King was an activist seeking change from the outside while Obama is the President who has to govern the country as a whole while still trying to move us toward a more progressive society and trying stay above the chaos.

Meanwhile we have the shootings in Arizona, Michelle Bachman giving a Tea Party response to the State of the Union Address (in addition to the Republican resonse), and new Tea Party Republicans pushing the more moderate Republicans in Congress into taking up legislation that I feel certain that Speaker Boehner does not view as in the parties best interest.  We can only hope that the chaos remains in the Republican Party and that incidents like Arizona do not spread.  Maybe the Republicans will lose the Tea Party Republicans to a third party.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Nate Silver posted a response to the recent polls the other day on Fivethirtyeight,

With the Democrats still in control of the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House, there is little that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives can do before 2013 to enact legislation. The health care overhaul will not be repealed, and social welfare programs will not be cut — at least, not unless Mr. Obama wants them to be, or until a Republican occupies the White House.

What the Republicans can do now, though, is use their leverage over the budget process. On spending matters, Congress is compelled to act every year merely to maintain the status quo. Sooner or later — perhaps over raising the federal debt ceiling, perhaps over authorizing funds to put Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul into effect — there is likely to be a showdown between the House Republican leaders and the president.

The most recent precedent is a favorable one for Mr. Obama: the 1995 government shutdown. The public largely blamed Republicans for the mess rather than Bill Clinton, whose standing rose as a result; he went on to win re-election the following year.

He goes on the point out the parallels in the polls while remaining cautious about 2012.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating has risen a few points in recent weeks, and is now at roughly 50 percent in the average poll. Mr. Clinton’s approval rating was at 54 percent in November 1995, just before the shutdown began, according to both Gallup and Washington Post surveys.

A Pew poll conducted in October 1995, meanwhile, found that 36 percent of respondents approved of the job that Republican leaders in Congress were doing. The figure right now is the same, according to an AP-GfK poll, or a bit lower at 30 percent, according to Quinnipiac; both surveys were released last week.

Surveys conducted before the 1995 shutdown found that the public largely viewed Mr. Clinton as capable of compromise, but not the Republicans. Similarly, in this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent said they expected the Republicans to be too inflexible in negotiations with President Obama, but only 26 percent said they expected that of Mr. Obama.

We have to remember, however, that President Obama is not Bill Clinton.  While we may have chacterized President Clinton as “the first Black President”, he was still a white man.  His alleged crimes were sexual, not racial.  We have to remember that a segment of the country will never accept Barack Obama as president because of his skin color.

President Obama’s recent moves have been toward the center, toward business, with the hope of creating enough jobs to win re-election.  I understand why he is not pushing more of a social agenda right now.  I think he did that, and did it well during the recent lame duck session.  He needs to put himself and the Democratic Party in a position to keep the Senate and the Presidency and to take back the House.  We need to remember, as Melissa Harris-Perry reminded us that the man in the picture is the President and not the activist.

Thoughts about Glenn Beck and the Lincoln Memorial Rally

I was sitting at dinner tonight and it occurred to me that for all of Glenn Beck’s call for all of us to return to church, I had no idea what church he attends.  Do you know? 

According to the Wikipedia entry about him, Beck was born Catholic and left the church.  He is now a member of The Church of the Latter Day Saints or Mormon.  No wonder he is so disparaging about President Obama’s religion calling him a follower of liberation theology.  If I am not mistaken, liberation theology began in the Catholic Church, the church that Beck left.  This obsession is not really new. 

In March 2010, Politics Daily reported on a segment of Beck’s show.

On his daily radio and television shows last week, Fox News personality Glenn Beck set out to convince his audience that “social justice,” the term many Christian churches use to describe their efforts to address poverty and human rights, is a “code word” for communism and Nazism. Beck urged Christians to discuss the term with their priests and to leave their churches if leaders would not reconsider their emphasis on social justice.

“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Later, Beck held up cards, one with a hammer and sickle and other with a swastika. “Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That’s what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: ‘social justice.’ They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy.”

This is the man who invoked the name of Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th Anniversary of the March on Washington.  King was a minister and an advocate of all that Beck seems to find evil: economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth and democracy.

[Thispicture is the Beck Rally, not the King Rally]

It appears that Glenn Beck is not only ignorant, but also confused.

Today, Kathleen Parker, the conservative columnist for the Washington Post wrote a column titled “My Name is Glenn Beck and I need help” in which she argues that his behavior is clearly that of an addictive personality.

Beck’s “Restoring Honor” gathering on the Mall was right out of the Alcoholics Anonymous playbook. It was a 12-step program distilled to a few key words, all lifted from a prayer delivered from the Lincoln Memorial: healing, recovery and restoration.

Saturday’s Beckapalooza was yet another step in Beck’s own personal journey of recovery. He may as well have greeted the crowd of his fellow disaffected with:

“Hi. My name is Glenn, and I’m messed up.”

Beck’s history of alcoholism and addiction is familiar to any who follow him. He has made no secret of his past and is quick to make fun of himself. As he once said: “You can get rich making fun of me. I know. I’ve made a lot of money making fun of me.”

Parker continues

Covering all his bases, Beck invoked the ghost of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood in the same spot 47 years ago to deliver his most famous speech. Where King had a dream, Beck has a nightmare: “It seems as darkness begins to grow again, faith is in short supply.”

Really? When did that happen? Because it seems that people talk about God all the time these days. Even during the heyday of Billy Graham, most Americans could get through 16 or so waking hours without feeling compelled to declare where they stood on the deity.

And the darkness? Creeping communism brought to us by President you-know-who. Conspiracy theories and paranoia are not unfamiliar to those who have wrestled the demon alcohol.

So we have a former Catholic Mormon alcoholic leading the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.  As Parker concludes, “Let’s hope he gets well soon.”