December 4, 2006

March in DC Jan. 27? You Bet, But Give the Locals a Listen!

See the map? Lemme tell you where this map comes from.

Every time a big peace or global justice demonstration is called for Washington , DC (which means, lets face it, at least once and probably twice in any given year), I get my coat pulled by my friend Steve. Steve's a longtime activist in DC, and his calls and emails on these occasions tend to be impassioned. With the big United For Peace and Justice rally against the occupation coming up January 27, we had our usual conversation, which I will summarize here.

The message--and, trust me, Steve's language is substantially more colorful and detail-filled-- is a simple one. As a rule, the big national coalitions calling these demos treat DC poorly. They make the major decisions shaping their marches and rallies without consulting with the locals about logistics, let alone how to tie in DC's struggles or mobilize the community there to take part. What's worse, they insist that area activists subordinate themselves to the advance team the coalition has set up to build and run the demo.

This time I challenged Steve to come up with a better plan, one that wouldn't isolate the march in the governmental section of DC--what Steve calls the Dead Zone--where the only people around on weekends are visiting high school classes and Finnish tourists. A skilled geographer, he came up with two carefully designed march routes, but decided the blog should only try to promote the one shown above. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

The route's merits are easy to understand. As the maps above show, it goes through the busy commercial districts bordering major Black and Latino communities. The march route passes right by several parks, which could be used for out-of-town bus drop-offs and rallies of constituent groups before joining the main march. And there are several Metro stations along the line of march, an important factor in January, as anyone who has taken part in the hypothermia-fests that are counter-inaugurals can attest.

I will close with one of Steve's more temperate observations: "People identify with the social imaginary of Washington, and engage in magical thinking--that screaming at empty buildings and each other will change the universe. The most effective part of these demos isn't the event but rather the dispersal, when participants filter into living parts of the city. I would love to see sometime a rally that chose to have the buses drop off out of towners at a number of outlying metro stops and moving through the subway system to the assembly point, which should be accessible by metro. There is a certain inertia to the pattern we see time after time, the noglobal movement broke through the set piece normalized protest senario, but thanks to traditional movement folks everything is comfortably marginalized once again."


In response to complaints that the map does not give enough detail for non-DC old-timers to tell where it was going, Steve provided the following mapquest-style written route:

My proposed route goes from Malcolm X Park, down 16th Street to K Street, over to Mt. Vernon Square and down 9th, I and 7th Streets to Constitution and on to the West side of the Capitol. The written directions were generated by the software, the little dog trot around Mt. Vernon and onto I is to avoid streets that are main arteries for cars, but in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic on the weekends.

1. Go on 16TH ST ST
1.1 mile(s)

2: Turn right on K ST
.1 mile(s)

3: Go back East on K ST Mt Vernon sq
0.5 mile(s)

4.: Turn left on K ST ST
0.2 mile(s)

5: Turn right on 9TH ST ST
0.1 mile(s)

6 Turn left on I ST ST
0.1 mile(s)

7: Turn right on 7TH ST ST
0.1 mile(s)

8 Continue South on 7TH ST ST
Drive 0.5 mile(s)

0.5 mile(s) to arrive at the Capitol .


Nelson H. said...

what can be done to pressure ufjp into actually considering such a proposal?

Anonymous said...

I've lived in DC, and have some comments about this.

First the map is too small and doesn't have street names. This only gives a general idea, without street names or the start and end points specified.

My guess is that this route would start in Malcolm X Park and end near the White House? I'm pretty sure ANSWER has done that route or something similar before, but I can't remember which march. I know they've started in Malcolm X Park before.

From what I can tell it would start near Columbia Heights / Mount Pleasant, then go down along Columbia Heights and over around/near Shaw and then down a few blocks from George Washington University and over to the White House.

I would agree in general that it is good to try to go through neighborhoods where the people of DC live, rather than just marching in front of empty buildings.

But a couple of points should be made. First the police are much less likely to give a permit for a large march going through neighborhood streets like that, and in my experience when you are on marches or do any political activity in real proletarian neighborhoods in DC, the police are generally freaked out and problems with arrests are much more likely.

One anecdote: it's very common for posters to be put up on the streets of DC (on telephone poles, etc). Sometimes the cops stop people but generally lots of posters got up. One time there was a group of a few people who put up some posters for Mumia Abu Jamal in Shaw. They started in a more commercial area, with no problems, then worked their way up into Shaw, and suddenly the cops came out of nowhere and arrested one of them (the others were able to get away)! This wasn't a march and it was about a particularly volatile issue, but the basic point is that once you get into DC's neighborhoods and try to connect with people there, the powers that be understand the potential power in that and tend to react accordingly. This of course is all the more reason to try to do so.

Another point though, is that while it's good to try to go through poor and working class oppressed nationality neighborhoods, it is still important to keep in mind that what is happening is still largely symbolic and doesn't create much of a real opportunity to connect with the people of DC. I think the reaction from residents would be likely to be largely positive and therefore would be inspiring to marchers, which would be a good thing. Especially if some work is done in the weeks leading up to the march to let people know the march will be coming through and what it's about.

But as I'm sure you'd agree, making real connections in DC's neighborhoods would require ongoing organizing work in those neighborhoods, rather than just a one-time march plowing through and then disappearing.

There's also the question of sending a large, mostly-white march, through the streets of Black and Latino immigrant neighborhoods. I don't think it's wrong to do it, but it raises questions and potential contradictions.

Those are just some of my off-the-cuff thoughts as someone who did my time in DC...

Anonymous said...

Actually looking at it again it looks like it would go down Constitution Ave to the Capitol, not to the White House (I hadn't looked at the map for a while before I posted the previous message, oops!)

Anonymous said...

All national marches in DC are by definition iconic. If any action is to become more than the stale symbolism of marching on the seat of government it's going to need to be planned in tandem with serious community organizing.

Assuming that DC-area leftists are NOT already organizing in the African-American and immigrant communities, the first step in this process is finding community associates who are doing this work.

Our experience in Newark, NJ is that when organizations like NJ Peace Action want a presence in town it is always more successful when they reach out to us in the People's Organization for Progress.

Since NJPA began partnering with POP, their rallies are viewed less as events sponsored by outsiders. In fact, NJPA makes their greatest strides by co-sponsoring POP's anti-war events, rather than building their own.

This is the kind of model DC-area actvists might want to emulate.

Anonymous said...

A comment, the areas where I placed the route on the map go through gentrifying parts of the city, not an invasion of majority minority hoods.It starts in Malcolm X, too small for a rally of 100K, but in the winter a long pre march rally would be a recipe for hyperthermia. Instead, filling the park and moving as soon as possable for a continuious flow would be desireable.The route I designed stays off of high traffic, major arterials, and passes through Chinatown, near to the MCI arena. Gallery place metro might be a perfect point for people to join the march after Dim Sum. Also, the Mt Vernon Square stop is also close to the route as are other metro stops and parks. The 16 street to White House or Mall route is a common plan, the only difference here is crossing through the MCI business improvement area. I suspect the idea of a hundred thousand potential diners passing through Chinatown would not be a problem these days when anti-war sentiment is a majority opinion. My view is that a permitted anti-war parade is a celebration in a city that is generally anti-war.
There is much organing going on in DC, but as the nations capital, that work is overshadowed by the national.The war might be an issue here in DC, but even more salient is the wholesale gentrification of the city,privitization, and public safety. Self determination is a major concern when DC is the plaything of congress testing pet ideas about charter schools, etc.

Jimmy Higgins said...

A friend emailed me on this topic:

I agree with Steve that many national marches, organized by many groups, have not done enough to consulting with/tie in to local DC groups. I wonder if you and Steve are aware that for the Sept. 24, 2005, which United for Peace and Justice was the main organizer of, UFPJ allocated substantial resources to altering that trajectory, and could have have done more but for the time and energy demanded by the tricky relationship with ANSWER. We spent many hours meeting with Latino groups, mapping out plans with African-American activists to build with the African American community, and calling through lists of groups. Local groups were also involved in many parts of logistics and other tasks, though there were many bumps along the way.

One major problem was that few of the predominantly white peace groups in DC had strong relationships with more than a few people of color/domestic justice groups in DC. Like groups in other cities, few had an emphasis, let alone an approach, on involving people beyond their fairly small circles, especially across racial and class lines. That meant that the national office ended up taking on work that these groups should have been doing for years, and that didn't make sense. I hope in the lead-up to January 27th these groups will make that work a priority.

For September 24th, 2005 I don't recall having much discussion about the route with folks, and I think that's a very good criticism.