What are we marching for?
When I ask this question I am not being satirical. I’m not being an asshole trying to demean the efforts of thousands walking down the street with a backhanded question. I really want to know. I have the utmost respect for people who put their time, energy and body on the front line of non-violent protest.
My fear is that due to the one-dimensional way that the civil rights movement is taught, most of the people activated to do something about obvious injustice don’t know the art and science of the marches they admire in grainy black and white videos of Dr. King. They don’t know that the major aim of Dr. King’s marches was to embarrass the federal government (which was working relentlessly to claim it was more progressive than communist countries) into taking action. On top of that, not all the grainy black and white films are of marches or of King/NAACP/SCLC marches. There are dozens of strategies that marches work for, and not all of them are to beg the Federal government to do something about the local governments.
Are we marching like Garvey?
Garvey inspired young people to galvanize into a nation and repatriate to a nation that recognizes our humanity from its inception. Garvey was not asking for anything from the government. He was trying to show his people the strength they had in numbers, and the pride and real progress they could garner if they banned together as a nation.
Are we marching like Malcolm?
The Nation of Islam (then as now) can be seen marching in formation all over the country in black neighborhoods, but never to ask the government for anything. Their strategy for marching was to let the people in their black neighborhoods know that they were there, they were organized, they were disciplined, and they were going to control their own neighborhoods. This tactic would do the people of Ferguson well, considering that they have almost no representation on the city council or the police department.
Are we marching like Huey P Newton?
The Black Panther Party was marching, in the infamous footage we always see of them with guns, specifically as a counter to the police department. As you may know, the outlandish rate at which black men met untimely demise at the hands of law enforcement is hardly a new phenomenon. Now we simply have video cameras in everyone’s pocket, and social media so we can skip over the racist gatekeepers of national media. The Panthers wanted the police to know that they were armed and ready to die defending their families from the police. Republican icon Ronald Reagan even changed California gun laws to combat the radical idea that men and women were not going to simply be victims of the Oakland police department any more.
But let’s say we are marching like Dr. King. A noble cause, that forwarded the plight of black people in this country when it comes to blatant Jim Crow discrimination (but not financial discrimination or law enforcement discrimination). Can we expect the federal government to step in the way it did for them? We aren’t protesting against local election boards, or retail shops, or public transportation. We are protesting against law enforcement: The blue line and the originators of the “no snitching” rule. We cannot expect the National Guard to be called out on our behalf the way Kennedy and Johnson did for King and all the others who forcibly integrated the South. The National Guard has been called, not to defend us but to control us because we have a problem with unarmed black men being killed. What use is it trying to get the federal government involved if the President considers himself proof that institutional racism isn’t an issue any more? Obama is the black president who believes that being “neutral” means being “not-black” even on issues like police brutality. What other President could stay so quiet about an issue that affects a demographic that voted for him at a rate of the mid to upper 90 percentile?
For the past several weeks I’ve been joking from the stage and online about waiting for the “I wish a mufucka would” march. It becomes increasingly clear that this is what needs to happen though. Police and District Attorney’s are a team, together called Law Enforcement. They would like to keep the precedent that if they can claim a civilian resisted arrest in any form, that civilian’s death is justified. We can tell by the Eric Garner video that this idea simply isn’t true. Unless you truly believe a young Mike Brown (with his whole life ahead of him) committed suicide by police because he got caught with a five-dollar box of cigarillos, the argument that a wounded man 100 feet away was an imminent threat is garbage as well.
We know from our history that Dr. King’s marches had no effect on one of his main causes. The march on Washington was a march for “Jobs and Justice”. Black unemployment rate is still twice that of whites, and our median income gap between blacks and whites is greater than it was in South Africa at the height of apartheid. Marches, like the ones Dr. King lead, make the federal government react to the appearances of racism, but not the systematic racism that this country was based on.
Should we march? Yes. I was at the Million Man March, and it was one of the most important moments of my life. We weren’t marching asking for anything though. We were marching to show ourselves our strength in numbers, and to promise each other we would strengthen our communities. We should march to galvanize our communities and to insist amongst ourselves that law enforcement comes from our communities, not the occupying armies that exist in Ferguson and NY. Marching to activate others to our aid will not work.