Recently, I attended the national march on Washington. The march commemorated the fifty-year anniversary of the march for civil rights where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. While participants in the march raised many issues, the most noticeable were: justice for Trayvon Martin, support for voting rights, and the demand for jobs.
I have seen numerous articles and documentaries that looked back at the 1963 March. None of these stories mention what Malcolm X had to say about the March. While Malcolm was an uncompromising supporter of Black rights, he didn’t like the March. He argued that when the White House discovered that they could not prevent the march, they did their best to control it.
The 1963 March
The purpose of the 1963 March was to pressure the government to pass civil rights legislation. Malcolm was familiar with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. These Amendments stated clearly that everyone in this country is supposed to have full rights, including voting rights. The Fourteenth Amendment states that any state that denies people the right to vote will loose proportional representation in congress. In a recent Supreme Court decision, we see how this court still refuses to recognize the Constitution.
In other words, from a legal perspective, the laws protecting the rights of Black people had been written in the 19th century. The reason for the 1963 March on Washington was to pressure the government to enact laws that had already been written into the Constitution.
In fact, President Kennedy refused to defend the Freedom Riders who rode on buses where Black people sat in the front and Caucasians sat in the back. Kennedy was the Commander and Chief of the most powerful army in the world, yet he made no effort to arrest the racist thugs who viciously beat these peaceful protesters. To the contrary, Kennedy sat back and allowed the Freedom Riders to be taken to jail.
Malcolm also argued that President Kennedy chose six Black leaders to organize the March. Protesters were told not to bring signs, and only to sing the song “We Shall Overcome.” Malcolm felt that this song was clear evidence that the government did not represent the people. He especially didn’t like the fact that the words to this song were, “We shall overcome some day.”
John Lewis was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and he had prepared an uncompromising speech to be given at the 1963 March. A. Phillip Randolph pressured Lewis to alter his speech to make it more acceptable to the conservative forces who supported the March.
In the years after the 1963 March, the government passed the Equal Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act. These laws were mere redundancies of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. However, it was still up to the government to enforce these laws.
Cities across the United States erupt in insurrection
In cities throughout the nation Black people began to understand that nothing significant was changing with respect to police brutality, as well as institutionalized discrimination in housing, education, and employment. These conditions sparked rebellions in cities throughout the nation.
Corporate officers and their supporters in the government began to understand that these uprisings were bad for business. I believe we can say that these rebellions also played a role in convincing those who had power that Black people needed to be given opportunities they never had before.
However, Michelle Alexander documented something that began to happen at the same time as these opportunities opened up. In her book, The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she documents how citizens of the United States have a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the would. Black people are grossly over-represented in this horrendous system of incarceration.
Cities erupt across Southern Vietnam
While the cities in the U.S. were erupting and the National Guard was used to suppress these uprisings, the armed forces were also being used in a war against the people of Vietnam. Malcolm X supported the Vietnamese in this conflict and gave them credit for their heroic liberation struggle. Martin Luther King was also against the war and argued that the U.S. armed forces might appear to be “strange liberators” to the Vietnamese. King also argued that the United States government was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.
General Westmoreland was the commanding officer for the U.S. troops in Vietnam. Westmoreland argued in 1967 that the U.S. forces were winning the war. The Vietnamese responded to this absurd statement by launching the Tet Offensive and attacked the U.S. forces in the cities and towns throughout southern Vietnam.
Mohammed Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the world at that time. Ali had been influenced by Malcolm X, and refused to be drafted into the military. Ali argued that: “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”
The 2013 March on Washington
In the recent March on Washington, demonstrators brought their own signs. However, the freedom of movement was more tightly restricted than in the 1963 March. When we look at photos of the 1963 March, we see there were no fences. In the recent March, there were fences everywhere and the movement of the demonstrators was also severely restricted by police officers carrying guns.
Another similarity to the 1963 March was the support it received from the White House. After the 1963 March President Kennedy invited the six appointed organizers to the White House and informed them they had done a “good job.” President Obama gave a speech four days after the demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial where he attempted to show how he supported the same ideals as Martin Luther King.
The myth that Obama supports the ideals of King
In order for President Obama to make this absurd argument he needed to completely leave out of his speech everything he has done for the past five years. He applauded the non-violence of the demonstrators in 1963. Yet, during every day of his Presidency he has been supporting a war costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars against the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan happens to be one of the poorest nations in the world.
At the same time as he applauded nonviolence, he was planning a bombing campaign against the people of Syria. The so-called pretext for this attack is that Syrian President Assad apparently used chemical weapons against the people of that country. In fact, the U.S. government has a long history of supporting ruthless dictatorships throughout the world.
Obama talked about how he found the system of Jim Crow segregation to be reprehensible. Jim Crow was a system of legalized discrimination. Today, President Obama has a vicious policy of legally discriminating against immigrant workers.
We might consider that Martin Luther King wrote a letter while the government in Birmingham, Alabama held him in jail. At the time, there were some religious officials who argued that King should be “patient,” and that change with respect to segregation would come in time.
King responded that his daughter once asked him why she could not play in a local park. King told his daughter that she couldn’t play in that park because she was Black. King didn’t like that answer and explained that this was the reason why he would not patiently wait for change to happen.
President Obama has deported over one million immigrants from this country. Thousands of these immigrants are parents of children who were born here. The Immigration and Naturalization Service deported these parents and sent the children to foster homes. Yet, President Obama argues that he shares Dr. King’s dream.
Obama acknowledged that the unemployment rate is higher today than it was in 1963. He also spoke of the unfairness of the disparity between those who are struggling to survive, and the billionaires who have more money than they could ever use. Obama didn’t mention that he supported giving banks literally trillions of dollars in his so-called “bailout plan.” While the banks and the billionaires have been bailed out, the unemployment rate has not changed in the years since he’s been President.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars per person
While I was one of the more than 100,000 people who came to Washington to demonstrate, I was thinking of a very basic idea. Anyone who has a relatively modest salary of $30,000 per year will pay about $10,000 in taxes. This means that in a thirty-year period this person will pay $300,000 in taxes. The penalty for not paying these taxes might be a term in prison. In other words, each one of the 100,000 demonstrators will be required to pay at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.
We might also argue that employers do not hire workers because they are kind-hearted. No, the basic idea is that corporations hire workers in order to maximize their profits. In other words, every working person generates enormous amounts of wealth and receives relatively little in return.
I believe that the 100,000 marchers might agree on the idea that we would all like to be treated with respect. At our jobs employers demand that we do what they say. Advertisers attempt to sell us items all day long, just so they might get our money. This column documents how politicians pretend to support our interests, while allowing corporations to maximize profits. Yes, we would like the people who hold power to be honest with us and to give us the respect we deserve. This is just an example of common decency.
The Cuban example
It seems like every other day the press has something negative to say about the island of Cuba. One accusation the press never makes about the Cuban government is the idea that they are dishonest. No, in the many long speeches Cuban leaders make to the people that haven’t been caught in a lie.
When the Cuban government says that education and health care are their priorities, this is no ploy to win votes. Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world. While Cuba was once a sugar producing country that was a playground for the affluent, today people come from all over the world for Cuban health care and education.
I believe that this is because the Cuban Government has a basic respect for the people.
Martin Robinson Delany was an abolitionist and a nationalist who lived at the time of the Civil War. Delany made the following comment that not only is relevant today, but I feel this comment cuts through much of the nonsense the media promotes today.
“A people, to be free, must necessarily be their own rulers: that is, each individual must, in himself, embody the essential ingredient--so to speak--of the sovereign principle which composes the true basis of his liberty.”
Malcolm X also had these words of wisdom taken from an interview with the Village Voice.
“The greatest mistake of the movement,” he said, “has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first”. . .
Wake them up to their exploitation?
“No, to their humanity, to their worth, and to their heritage”
I believe that the recent March on Washington is clear evidence that the people are beginning to wake up.