Yesterday, the SD tabled at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. It was a beautiful day— bright sunshine, pleasant temperatures; God did not rain on our parade. Patty said that her angels were taking care of things for us. Patty flew in from LA and joined Michael and Peng in Buffalo. Together they drove down to Pittsburgh on Friday to pick me up and get some some rest before the early morning Saturday drive to Washington.
We got to RFK Stadium a little later than planned, but we were able to easily park and haul our goods out of Michael’s car. The trick was to schlep all this stuff (including card tables!) through the Metro station, onto the train, out at Smithsonian, and carry it all toward the WW2 monument where we set up. Michael was an incredible pack horse and I’m sure his back is feeling out of sorts today.
Many people came up to our table and engaged us in conversation. To name just a few of the many interesting encounters: two high school seniors who were studying government wanted to know all about Randolph and Rustin; two college kids from Oklahoma expressed dismay over the lack of progressive activity at their college; a women from Dominican Republic wanted to know if we were related to the Social Democrats in her country; members of the UAW and CWA stopped to thank us for our support of organized labor.
We had Bayard Rustin postcards to hand out, and people loved them. However, I was surprised how many people didn’t know who Bayard was, especially considering that this was a celebration of the march he organized! We have a lot of work to do in that regard. Furthermore, of those who did know who Bayard was, none of them knew that he was also Chair of the Social Democrats USA during the 1970’s. Still more education needed. The event gave us a great opportunity to connect with the African American community, something that has been lacking in all left groups. I am hopeful that some of the introductions we made today will flourish into fuller relationships.
While the day was a success for the SD, I have to say that the atmosphere was more like a picnic rather than protest rally. The ’63 march came at a time of great tension in civil rights. And with it came an expectation that something important would result from the march. The protesters in ’63 didn’t come all the way from Mississippi and New York just to have a picnic. Travel was not so easy in those days and certainly most blacks didn’t have the financial means to go to Washington on a whim. When Bayard spoke at the rally he listed demands, and he was serious. The protesters who came to Washington were letting Congress know that they expected action. Frankly, today’s rally felt like a commemoration of the past, even though it should have been much more. There is still a great tension in our nation regarding civil rights. Republicans are taking away voting rights because they know that’s the only way they can stay in office. The Trayvon Martin case still haunts us, not because “stand your ground” is an asinine law (which it is), but because if the race of the men involved were reversed the shooter would have been found guilty. Black unemployment is running at about 6% higher than white unemployment. Union jobs, which have elevated the living standards of both black and white, continue to be shipped overseas. There are many reasons for the African American community to be outraged, but I didn’t sense outrage or urgency. It would be nice to think that we have entered a new era where we get things done differently, but the fact is that things aren’t getting done. Since 2000, the standard of living for the average American is going down. One has to wonder when people will become enraged over that fact that billionaires are sucking the life out of our country and depositing it in a bank in Switzerland.
Photo credits belong to Peng Zhang, a university student in Buffalo. We are grateful for all the pictures he took and we enjoyed his company during the weekend. I have posted about 20 pictures and some additional comments.