When I first saw a flyer for the March on Washington, I paid it no attention.
Another one. Okay.
When I saw it was being lead by Al Sharpton, it caught my attention even less. No shade to Rev. Sharpton and his efforts, but it just seemed out of touch with the fiery, fearless youth-led movements that have been taking place across the country. Were they even involved? I got my answer later, but context is everything so stay with me.
Since the nationwide protests have broke out in response to the Darren Wilson verdict and then Eric Garner’s case among others, I’ve been trying to figure out effective ways to add to the call for justice. Do I lay down and die-in? Do I walk side-by-side with my peers in rallies? What do I do in this monumental moment? The conclusion: I think. I share my thoughts. I connect with those of like mind to start creating positive change, and build from there.
When the opportunity to cover the March on Washington came, I was open to experience the moment, but still skeptical on the impact it would have. Part of what bugged me off the bat was the title, “Justice for All”. Wasn’t feeling that.
“Yeah everyone needs justice, but right now we need to focus on ours.” We had just hopped in a cab and I was already on my soapbox.
“You going to the march? They moved. They left the capital, ” our Taxi driver jumped in.
“Oh, you know about the march? What are your thoughts?” … no response. Part of my point. Yes, people around the world have sympathized and supported this movement, but to take the focus off the clear racial nature of these incidents which is unique to the Black community, takes away from the potency of attacking the issues.
As we made our way to Freedom Plaza, the crowd appeared to be up to a thousand. Some people were leaving. There were small crowds around vendors, selling everything from T-shirts to photos of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. People with bullhorns, signs, and others standing attentively to hear the speakers. The families of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner were in attendance.
“That could’ve been me,” we were told by a young Black boy, 15, looking off as if his words were painting a troubling picture in his mind. “I’m just out here because it’s good to see Black people coming together, because you know that could’ve been me. I just wanted to be a part of this.”
Once we got into the meat of the crowd we looked for more people to speak with.
“I’m just here to figure out how I can help,” were Roy’s words – a middle-aged White guy with a long ponytail, biker jacket and perfectly curled mustache. “I didn’t want to come out for a while. I stayed back, did my research so I could try understand. Now I’m just here seeing how I can be of help in anyway.”
We were told that protestors from Ferguson had bumrushed the stage earlier to get their voices heard. To me, this proves there was a disconnect between the organizers of Saturday’s march and the young people who have been at the forefront of these demonstrations.
Eric Garner’s daughter took the stage and asked for 11 seconds of silence for her father. Hearing her testimony was a chilling reminder of what this was all (supposed to be) for.
Besides her, much of the speakers and the rhetoric were drowned out by the more intimate and intriguing discussions we had with the people in attendance.
Witnessing the camaraderie and networking that took place, I realized that marches and rallies have their place. These cases likely wouldn’t continue to make the news if hadn’t been young people taking to social media and organizing demonstrations through power of these platforms. But it’s important not to let people who did not initiate the current momentum, step-in, take over and redirect the spirit of the movements taking place; which is what it felt like on Saturday.
What I took away most were the conversations and interactions with the people in attendance. Their stories, what motivated them to be there and their thoughts on racial injustice. I opened my mind to hear what people outside the Black community had to share and was surprised at the heartfelt perspectives.
And despite getting the sense that everyone involved in bringing the crowd together did not have the right motives, they—the people who came out—are the reason I’m glad I was there.