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. August 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.
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. And now we march again, not only to commemorate, but also to demonstrate the failure of our society to fulfill King’s dream.
When W.E.B. DuBois departed this country for Africa, according to Gerald Horne, author of Black and Red: W.E.B. DuBois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War,he lamented, “I just cannot take any more of this country’s treatment. We leave for Ghana October 5th and I set no date for my return…Chin up, and fight on, but realize that American Negroes can’t win.”
DuBois died on August 27, 1963, just one day prior to the famous March on Washington, thus, never getting the news about the 250,000 participants and never hearing King’s words of accountability, admonishment, and idealism. I wonder what he would have thought about that day and what he would have suggested we do from that point forward. Keep marching for 50 years? I kinda doubt it.
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 50 years later.
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?
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” do what the president suggested a couple of years ago, “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes…”
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.”
I say we have been marching in place. Instead, we should be marching to our businesses and supporting them, marching to our banks and depositing our funds, marching to our schools to educate our youth, marching through our “hoods” and turning them back into neighborhoods and then into real communities. Let’s march to our churches and form Collective Empowerment Group chapters across this country.
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, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.