On Saturday morning, I joined a group of colleagues, our family members and friends to create a Washington Area Women’s Foundation contingent for the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. Despite the early hour (I am not a morning person), I was excited and enthusiastic about being able to participate in such an historic event. As we approached the National Mall, it was clear that the excitement and enthusiasm were shared by the many, many other activists who were also there. And as we convened around the reflecting pool to listen to the speakers lined up for the morning’s rally, and had the chance to look around at those with whom we were sharing space and purpose, I was struck by the diversity that surrounded me. Yet, the audience, issues and messages from the speakers created a bizarre contradiction. On many levels we were marching on this day for many of the same rights and issues that our foreparents marched for 50 years before us – equality, access to jobs, etc. Yet, it was apparent that this was not the same movement as it was then. The increased visibility and vocalization of issues affecting women, LGBTQ, Asian American, and Latina/o communities, etc. was a clear indicator that while we have not come as far as we would like, the past 50 years have been significant in creating the space and voice for people from so many different communities to come together to be recognized and heard.
But despite the camaraderie and energy that was with us all, there were two noticeable voids for me. The first was the absence of the power, passion and clear purpose that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought to the original march with his “I Have A Dream Speech.” I don’t think that in the 50 years since the original march, there has been any speech quite so profound as his, nor any speaker as moving. I own that perhaps it isn’t a fair expectation, because people like Dr. King don’t come along every day. But even to replay that speech and remind us all of that power, passion and purpose, would have elevated the day that much more to me.
The other thing that I struggled with was that even in the diversity of the communities represented on Saturday, I still felt a siloing of communities and identities. I felt we were missing something – that sense of underlying unity. That thing that transcended race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class…that thing that made us all brothers and sisters in a movement for humanity overall. That thing that reminded us that we could not divide the essence of our being into artificial buckets of race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. And that our communities and identities were not distinct and separate, but inextricably linked. I was missing that call to action that said without a collective vision, a collective movement, and a recognition that if any one of us gets left behind, it means all of us fall behind, we would be here 50 years from now fighting many of the same battles. Despite the absence 50 years ago of some of the diverse voices that were present on Saturday, I think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to capture that vision for the future that saw us all sitting around a community table with a shared sense of our value for who we were and what we brought. And a recognition that the problems that we are solving require solutions that reflect the intersections of our communities and identities.
I walked away from the march with mixed emotions for the reality of our country today – appreciation, sadness, frustration, drive, disappointment, and hope. What I wish I had gotten from the podium is that feeling that we were here together because, in the words of Dr. King: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” And so, we march on.