By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
The rays of a D.C. August summer sun beamed as thousands of protestors waved signs and massive flags that said “Black Lives Matter,” and proudly raised their fists to proclaim “Black Power,” as passionate speakers spoke from the morning to early afternoon, at the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington.” On Aug. 28, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN) held another March on Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 57 years to the day and at the same site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream,” speech. This time leaders, such as Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and the families of police brutality victims, called for legislation to end systemic racism and advocated for, as King’s granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, called it “genuine equality.”
“We have mastered the selfie and TikTok, now we must master ourselves. Less than a year before he was assassinated, my grandfather predicted this very moment. He said that we were moving into a new phase of the struggle- the first phase was Civil Rights and the new phase is genuine equality,” said 12-year-old Yolanda.
“Genuine equality is why we are here today and why people are coming together all across the world, from New Zealand to New Jersey. He said that we must not forget the days of Montgomery, we must not forget the sit-in movements, we must not forget the Freedom Rides, the Birmingham movement and Selma. Pop Pop King, we won’t,” the young granddaughter of the great Civil Rights leader added with great fervor and to roaring applause.
King III, the son of the fallen Civil Rights leader, also exhorted crowds to understand that the fight for justice must continue.
Thousands gathered around the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool at “The Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington,” held on Aug. 28. (Photo by Dwight Juice Jones)
“In our struggle for justice, there are no permanent victories. For on this day, 12 years ago, I was honored to address the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and on that night, in the evening in the mile-high city, our spirits were soaring as the Democrats nominated Barack Obama, who would go on to become the first African American President of these United States. But the progress we celebrated then, is in peril yet again, and now we must march to the ballot box, and the mailboxes to defend the freedoms that earlier generations worked so hard to win. In so many ways, we stand together today in the symbolic shadow of history, but we are making history together right now. We’re marching with the largest and most active, multigenerational, multiracial movement for Civil Rights since the 1960s. From high school students to senior citizens, Black as well as White, Latino, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islanders, Americans are marching, many for the first time, and we’re demanding real lasting structural change,” King III said.
Like his daughter, King III said that it was important to remember the work of the past and continue to build on it in order to achieve true liberty and justice for all.
“We will complete the work so boldly began in the 1960s. We’re marching to overcome, what my father called, the ‘Triple Evils,’ of poverty, racism and violence, and today, those evils have exacerbated four major challenges that currently face our country. First COVID-19; and second more than 30 million Americans are unemployed again, disproportionately people of color. COVID-19 has laid bare the structural and racial inequalities in our economy that kept too many trapped into debt and poverty. Third, police brutality and gun violence are killing so many unarmed African Americans. Today we march with their families and we say their names; and fourth, our voting rights are under attack. We must seriously defend our right to vote, because those rights were paid for with the blood of those lynched for seeking to exercise their constitutional rights. They were paid for with the blood of Civil Rights workers,” King III told the crowd, projected to be filled with over 50,000 demonstrators.
Sharpton emphasized the importance of demonstration to influence legislative changes and stop police brutality.
“We come to Washington saying, ‘How do you memorialize John Lewis and allow the bill that he stood up for us to die? We want the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill,” Sharpton told the crowd. “We didn’t just come today to have a show. Demonstration without legislation will not lead to change. We didn’t come out and stand in this heat because we have nothing to do. We’ve come to let you know, if we would come out in these numbers in the heat, and stand in the heat, that we will stand in the polls all day long,” the march organizer added.
Sharpton said it’s time to have “a conversation with America,” addressing the horrors of systemic racism.
“Parents have to have the conversation with our children- how we have to explain if a cop stops you, don’t reach from the glove compartment, don’t talk back. We’ve had the conversation for decades. It’s time we have a conversation with America. We need to have a conversation about your racism, about your bigotry, about your hate, about how you would put your knee on our neck, while we cry for our lives. We need a new conversation,” the NAN founder and president said.
With the great leadership of the likes of Sharpton, King III and other “boomers,” young people also added valuable voices to the march, 12-year-old Yolanda stressed that her generation (Generation Z) would be the game-changers in the fight for equality “once and for all, now and forever.”
“We have only just begun to fight and we will be the generation that moves from ‘me’ to ‘we’… We are going to be the generation that calls a halt to police brutality and gun violence once and for all, now and forever. We are going to be the generation that reverses climate change and saves our planet once and for all, now and forever. And we are going to be the generation that ends poverty, here in America- the wealthiest nation on earth- once and for all, now and forever,” she said.
“We stand to march for love and we will fulfill my grandfather’s dream.”