August 24, 2013

March on Washington: The 50th Anniversary Remix

I’m in Washington, DC and it’s August 24. Before I head out to the March on Washington: The 50th Anniversary Remix, a few thoughts.

A couple of months ago, I had decided not to come. It was, I thought, shaping up as an exercise in nostalgia. Not that I'm not nostalgic. My first political activism came around the Civil Rights Movement. The first really big fight I can remember having my Moms (and the last one I lost) broke out when she wouldn't let my 13 –year- old ass travel to the 1963 March from rural Northwest Connecticut. But the few dozen Big Marches I’ve humped down to DC for in the decades since then have blunted the sentimentality.

Two things changed my mind: the Supreme Court decision trashing the voting rights act and the mass outrage triggered by the “not guilty” verdict for George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. These two developments have objectively changed the character of today’s demonstration.

As the blatantly preplanned and coordinated effort to disenfranchise students at traditionally Black colleges in NC shows, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act is the starting gun in an amped-up campaign to restrict the franchise as much as possible to white folks.

Those leftists who would argue that this is a non-issue, given the bought-and-paid-for nature of elections in our bourgeois democracy do so in defiance of the entire history of this country. The famous compromise in the drafting of the US Constitution which defined a slave as 3/5 of a man for purposes of determining a state’s population,
and thus its political clout in Congress and presidential elections, was only the starting point. As Supreme Justice John Paul Stevens points out, with the defeat of Reconstruction, largely accomplished by 1876, things got worse.

From Reconstruction until the breakthroughs by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, each Black resident counted as 100% of a person in the Jim Crow South, even though African Americans  were effectively denied the right to vote, giving the white ruling class there even more clout. Or, let’s use the word, power. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t win state power for the working class. It didn’t meet the definitive ‘60s chant “Power to the People.” But it damn sure gave Black people the ability to exercise unprecedented power in their lives and communities, and to, as Lenin put it, affect affairs of state.

 This is what is under attack now, for African Americans, for Latina/os, for the foreign-born, for the young, the elderly, the poor.

Trayvon Martin's murder has often been compared to the savage 1955 killing of Emmett Till. That killing symbolized the lynch terror upon which the whole structure of Jim Crow rested, including the forcible disenfranchisement of Black people. Just as Emmett Till’s lynching wasn’t specifically designed to stop anyone from registering to vote, unlike the later murders civil rights workers in the ‘60s, Trayvon wasn’t killed to advance voter suppression.

But they are not unrelated. The “stand your ground” laws, which the Koch Brothers-funded ALEC has pushed through in dozens of states, do more than give white vigilantes legal permission to kill black youth. The right wing is fond of pointing out that in Florida, more African Americans have not been charged in the killing of Black victims than anyone else. That’s true, and what it says is that, as it has always been in this country, Black lives are not seen as of equal value to white ones.

Finally, the Trayvon Martin killing has given today’s March on Washington additional meaning because it has blown up the myth of “post-racial America,” the very myth the Supreme Court decision tried to enshrine in law. Black people were appalled not only by the killing but by the desperation with which many, many white people sought to justify the verdict or downplay the killing itself. For other white folks, not entirely blinded by their own privileges and the mythology that cloaks them, it has been a wake-up call.

Many are here today—white, Black and other people of color--to take a stand against the forces who are trying roll back history to the days of Jim Crow and naked white supremacy.

And that’s why I am out the door now.

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