As we draw nearer to one of the most relevant events in history, an event that has been revered and immortalized by the iconic phrase, “I have a dream!” hundreds of thousands of people are preparing to relive the famous March on Washington.
Aug. 28, 1963 was the day that a quarter million people descended on the National Mall and heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his timeless speech that began with an economic theme and ended with a rousing, thought-provoking, soulful call for freedom and equality.
Restating MLK’s dream
Many people are excited about marching once again to commemorate that day in 1963, to restate MLK’s dream, and hear speeches from civil rights icons. In the last 50 years, Black folks have organized more marches than I care to remember. Now we march again, not only to commemorate, but also to demonstrate the failure of our society to fulfill King’s dream.
A half century later, we are steeped in the same emotional quandary we started with in 1963; we are bombarded by calls to come back to Washington to repeat what took place in 1963; and we are teaching our children about that day and telling them to “keep the dream alive,” to “relive the dream,” to “redeem the dream,” and to go back and march with us.
Have we been marching in place all this time? Should we still be doing the same thing we did back then to highlight the same issues and to convince the same entrenched government and society to accept us as “equal”? Marching in place has taken us nowhere, which is hardly a revelation. By definition, as we learned in the military, it is not supposed to move people forward; rather it is supposed to keep them active, keep their metabolism rate up, and keep their attention right where they happen to be while marching in place.
It’s how a “commander” controls his troops while making them expend energy, maybe to tire them out before they are allowed to sleep. Sound familiar?
Weary and tired
We have been ordered to march in place for years, only to make us weary and tired, which has caused us to go back to sleep after every march. We slept after we marched in Selma, in Birmingham, in Mississippi, in Chicago, in Harlem, in Washington with a million plus Black men, and after we marched to Jena, La.; Jasper, Texas; and Sanford, Fla.
We marched to the polls and voted for Barack Obama, and went back to sleep. Now we have awakened once again “fired up and ready to go” to do what the president suggested a couple of years ago, “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes…”
Marching rewards others
If our history of marching is any indicator, after we march this time we will go back to sleep a short while afterwards. So what’s the point? Here’s how Claud Anderson recently put it: “Blacks have been marching for centuries and have barely moved an inch.
Marching does not injure the majority society. In fact, it does just the opposite. Black marches reward those who are kicking our butts. Blacks spend millions of dollars on hotels, airlines, restaurants, clothing stores, rental cars, and cabs while attending a march.”
Stop being “treadmill activists.” And, in light of MLK dying while fighting for an economic cause, if you are going to march in Washington this year, at least fill up at a Black-owned gas station, stay at a Black-owned hotel, eat at a Black-owned restaurant, and charter a bus from a Black-owned company.
I can hear the moaning, groaning, and excuses now. Sorry for my cynicism, but I wrote the same thing in 1995 prior to the Million Man March. While we are counting our people at the marches, others will be counting their profits from the marches.
Jim Clingman is founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.