The 50th Anniversary March

SD officers at the March (from left): YSD Chair Michael Mottern, Treasurer Patty Friend, National Co-Chair Rick D’Loss

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.

New printed materials were created for the March. The postcards of Bayard Rustin were very popular and I think we should expand on their use. Thanks to Bernadette for suggesting the use of postcards as an inexpensive yet effective way to get the message out.

Union presence was strong. CWA, SEIU, TWU, and UAW especially. I think the union turnout was better than the NAACP.

Patty has been active in the movement since she was a teenager and can directly relate stories of Bayard and other leaders of the day. Her mind is like an encyclopedia; she never ceases to amaze me.

We engaged a lot of people. Michael is especially good at pulling people into a conversation.

Next time we will need to do better at gathering email addresses from visitors. We learned valuable lessons about tabling.

Michael and Rick speak with a couple of DSA members about the weak organization of the Left today and how left orgs need to work together more.

A girl shows her mother a photo of Bayard Rustin

The atmosphere at the march was somewhat like a huge picnic in the park. Very different from the 1963 march. The 1963 march had greater tension and greater expectations.

Many people brought their children, which I think is a highlight of the day. Children got a real education.

More children.

Two Marines came to the table and showed us their collectables. They were pleased to learn that SD Chair Rick D’Loss is also a Marine.

Michael gets his picture taken with one of last of the remaining leaders of the 63 March, Rev. Joseph Lowery

Rev. Lowery is 91. He is a past president of the SCLC and was active in all of the civil rights activities during the ’60s.

Patty and Michael joined the marchers while Rick minded the table. Special thanks to Peng Zhang, student at Univ. of Buffalo for capturing the whole day in his camera.

More visitors to our table. We handed out a lot of literature. It will be interesting to see how much feedback we get.

Michael has no problem inserting himself into a scene. 🙂

There was a steady stream of people coming and going to the Reflecting Pool. It was more like being at the shopping mall than being at a rally.

Michael tries to sign up a park ranger as a new SD member.

Overall, the day was a huge success for the SD. We met many people and made a lot of new connections, especially in the African American community. Left organizations have had trouble in recent decades attracting black members; maybe this event will be the beginning of a change.


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