While I applaud everyone who marched in Washington, DC, yesterday, I chose to sit this one out — for several reasons.
As an organizer who has previously been involved in the planning and execution of national marches, I see how they are attractive on a symbolic level. Given the moment we are in right now, I even see the desire to feel connected to a community outside of ourselves, which is a feeling marches give people quite effectively. The issue I take is not with marches themselves but more specifically with the march in DC this past Saturday.
To be precise, I have four fundamental issues:
1) Timing & Local Connection.
Marches can have the potential to build capacity for movements. However, the DC march was put together with very little time, and even in the time they did have, there wasn’t an engagement of local organizers. All of the individuals and organizers leading protests, Black Friday blackouts, and die-ins in DC were not a part of organizing this march. They easily could have been engaged and were not. In NYC, the Millions March on NYC and the National Day of Resistance, which were both occurring at the same time, were being led by the movement. The DC march, whether intentionally or not, appeared to be led by figureheads and DC VIP’s.
It also fell at a time where elected officials had already given their farewell messages for the year and were preparing for holiday parties and headed in-district and in-state. Whatever interaction happened with elected officials on Saturday was likely with elected officials who were already in support of an end to police brutality.
It is a gross mis-management of resources to encourage people at this point in time to come to a national march in DC without a direct interface with decision-makers and concrete demands to push. Organizations are closing doors, donors are “shifting” their portfolios, organizers are finding themselves unemployed or underemployed after the election. The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent (if not millions, especially if we include travel and lodging costs) would have better been spent funding local organizations and national grassroots organizations who are in these communities being directly impacted by the issues of police brutality. These organizations and individuals are still in need now. As thousands of dollars is being recycled in the form of discarded signs, those thousands could have been used to sustain the livelihood of people who are organizing in their communities right now without a paycheck.
3) Power & Policy.
The decisions we have been protesting are not national decisions — they have been state and local decisions, and to resolve these issues, we must focus on decentralized organizing that focuses on local and state targets. Why not have a march that focuses on marching on state capitols, marching to the homes of elected officials on a local level, or taking over offices simultaneously in several cities if we really feel the need to march? Millions March on NYC did just that at the exact same time as Al’s march. They made concrete demands of the Governor of the state of NY and the mayor of New York City. Were there demands of the newly elected Mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, at the DC march? I highly doubt it. Did we march on the Department of Justice or the White House? No. Even the national institutions that could actually do something on the issues of police brutality were not targeted.
Symbolism hasn’t done anything for me, and I mean that. Remember when Janet Jackson asked, “What have you done for me lately?” Well, I’m still asking that of our symbolic speakers and figureheads like Al Sharpton. Many of us have “worn out our shoes” marching in marches in DC. There has been no follow-up. There have been no lists. There is no policy agenda that institutions, organizations, decision-makers, and individuals have collectively agreed on. To that end, what is left is the symbolic “power” of this march. You can miss me with that. Will there be local follow-up on this march in DC? Will we see Al on the ground organizing within communities and doing more than giving eulogies and speeches? I hope so, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
I say all of this to not discredit the people who worked to make this march happen — the ones whose names most don’t know and won’t know — because they are organizers who don’t do this for recognition but instead for their community and for the movement. I say this to ask us to look critically at how we’re building this movement. A black person is killed by police force every 28 hours in this country, and that resonates with me every 24 hours. Our lives quite literally depend on this movement right now, so we have to build strategically, quickly, and with the intent to sustain.
I do believe that progress is possible — I just don’t think a national march with a VIP section is going to make black lives matter or change the policies around police brutality in this country, and that’s my bottom-line.