Commemorate 1963 March on Washington with plan as bold as original: militant mass shutdown of nation’s capital
by Kwazi Nkrumah, Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington is coming up. A massive commemoration is being planned in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Aug. 24.
Many people don’t realize that the original plan for the 1963 March was for a militant mass shut-down of the nation’s capital in order to compel the Kennedy administration and the U.S. Congress to enact immediate federal legislation to end the practices connected with segregation throughout the United States at that time. This proposal had come from the youth wing of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular those grouped in and around SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee).
SNCC was doing most of the real ground-breaking work of organizing mass, locally-based movements to resist segregation, especially in the rural areas of the Deep South. All of these areas – Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida etc. – had been under unremitting Klan terrorism and “lynch law” for nearly a century.
The Kennedy administration, when it found that it could not stop this effort, very cleverly undermined the original thrust of the projected march by agreeing to help give the march high public visibility, permits and even funding from various private sources. The net result of this was that while “established” national civil rights groups did in fact gain very high visibility, financial benefits and a few new telephone numbers to call at the White House, it would be two years – and several urban rebellions – before the federal government felt compelled to take any significant legislative action to eliminate legal segregation as a matter of public policy in the United States. In our opinion, Malcolm X very correctly criticized this in a speech that he made to the Grassroots Leadership Conference in Detroit in December of that year.
While we welcome the planned commemoration in Washington this year by the major established civil rights organizations, and while we have no doubts that they will be raising some significant concerns in regard to issues of racial profiling, the Trayvon Martin case and other relevant questions connected with the steadily declining conditions in the national African-American community – and the nation as a whole – we feel that this commemoration will most likely display many of the same basic shortcomings that characterized the 1963 march.
Therefore, we would like to propose that in addition to the five days of activities currently being planned in Washington, D.C., here in Los Angeles – and in other localities – a series of major local actions be planned with an eye to laying the groundwork for building ongoing local united-front organizing around the key survival struggles and needs of our various communities. We believe the time is right to initiate broad local united fronts that can carry both the struggles around specific demands and the need for mass movements to conduct those struggles more effectively to a qualitatively higher level.
We would like to propose that in addition to the five days of activities currently being planned in Washington, D.C., here in Los Angeles – and in other localities – a series of major local actions be planned with an eye to laying the groundwork for building ongoing local united-front organizing around the key survival struggles and needs of our various communities.
These struggles include, but are not necessarily limited to, the struggle to maintain and improve the quality of public education, housing, health care, challenging the prison industrial complex, racial profiling, police brutality and spying, political prisoners, mass unemployment, assaults against social security and essential public services and declining conditions for those who actually DO have jobs. In short, all of the key areas where the population at large has been cast adrift by the banks and giant corporations and the politicians and public institutions over which they have established their absolute control!
We believe the time is right to initiate broad local united fronts that can carry both the struggles around specific demands and the need for mass movements to conduct those struggles more effectively to a qualitatively higher level.
On behalf of the Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, I would like to invite you and your organization to participate in planning activities focused on “Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.” If you are based in another city, please consider initiating a similar effort in your area. If enough of us take this up around the country, we could actually change at least some of the political equations nationally.
Contact Kwazi Nkrumah of the Martin Luther King Coalition of Greater Los Angeles at (213) 884-5190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.