On the West Coast, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington falls almost 42 years to the day of George Jackson’s assassination, and close to three years after Oscar Grant’s murder trial with no less desire for social change.
For those in the Bay, Black August signals a time to evolve conversation and course of action around civil rights, yet this year it will be aligned with a larger movement for justice in honor of Martin Luther King’s unassailable dream.
Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Grant, united with hip-hop historian and journalist Davey D, the Hip Hop Caucus, and the Trayvon Martin Foundation at the end of July to design an initiative for mobilization around this year’s march on August 28.
Together, they outlined demands and assemblies.
“For the people that can’t come to Washington D.C., we are encouraging them to have a freedom party within their communities,” Johnson tells theGrio. “We are going to have one in Oakland. It will be held at the Oscar Grant Plaza on August 28, where we will start the rally and then we will march to the state building and the federal building.”
“Our hope is that, with the momentum we have behind the Trayvon Martin killing, we’re able to galvanize many of our young people today to become a part of that movement and help bring about changes that we need,” he says.
A ‘list of demands’
Those in the Bay Area recognize this year’s demonstration provides a significant extension to the ongoing work being done each year in the name of freedom.
That work includes reforming prisons, raising education standards, countering immigration policies, boosting workers’ rights, and managing police brutality, all of which will be addressed in the overarching campaign.
Recent amendments to the Voting Rights Act will similarly be tackled.
“The ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech for us is really contextualized in freedom struggles,” Davey D explains. “We’re in the middle of a prison hunger strike, so there’s a lot of conversation about how do we stop mass incarceration, and that was definitely a point that I know the Hip Hop Caucus back East was honing in on for themselves. That’s work that people like Harry Belafonte have taken on for a long time.”
Furthermore, Johnson mentions supporting the Trayvon Martin Act, which would amend Stand Your Ground laws.
The alliance intends to challenge racial profiling policies, and press the Department of Justice to investigate George Zimmerman for civil rights violations in addition to its ongoing inquiry surrounding Grant’s death.
“This march will include these particular demands,” says Johnson. “We also want to create a tracking policy for police killings. Right now, there’s no policy or tracking mechanism that has been established for us to be able to identify just how many people are being killed by police officers. It’s a real task to access this information.”
Johnson references the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Report from April, which found that last year, out of 585 extrajudicial killings, 313 were black. Thus, every 28 hours, a black male, female, or child is killed by an extrajudicial, police officer, wanna be police officer, or security guard.
“That’s really concerning,” Johnson stresses.
Putting action behind words
As Davey D points out, this year’s commemoration also coincides with the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, bringing more gravitas to the ceremony.
He underscores the necessity of getting beyond lofty interpretations of King’s statements to the true social justice prerogatives within them.
“In looking at the March on Washington, a lot of folks have different opinions on what that means,” Davey D remarks. “There was this whole discussion about inadequacies in terms of resources and finances when [King] talks about the promissory notes. And that’s very structural, that’s systemic. It continues on to this day.”
“This is not about dancing in the street with black boys and white girls,” he adds. “Whatever happens on that day, it’s gotta be more than just a speech.”
Marching to the beat of the hip-hop drum
Ready to engage the youth, the Hip Hop Caucus pulls sway from its greatest common denominator – music – and will reportedly bring a handful of artists along to join the upcoming march in D.C.
“The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is an important moment for the hip-hop community,” says Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. “We must visibly show that our generation is pushing forth for freedom and opportunity for our struggling communities. We must inspire hope and confidence in our new leadership that not just looks back at 1963, but more importantly, looks forward to 2063…If hip-hop is missing from today’s movement, then the movement will be severely limited in its ability to galvanize people to fight for change.”
With rap turning 40 this year, Davey D believes hip-hop could inspire a large presence in the crowd, as it is the generation behind the 21st century American Dream.
Some may remember the Hollywood faction that appeared at the original rally. Belafonte joined artists and entertainers like Sidney Poitier, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Charlton Heston and Marlon Brando.
Davey D doesn’t, however, presume hip-hop’s most popular faces will appear, rather he anticipates it will be the community itself.
“I don’t know if I want a Lil Wayne there,” he comments. “Will there be conscious artists, like a Talib [Kweli]? They may be there, but to their credit, they’re already doing the work. Many of them are working directly with Harry Belafonte to address mass incarceration.”
Furthermore, both Davey D and Johnson agree, whoever shows up better stand for something.
Johnson comments, “With the Oscar Grant movement, many of our young people became involved through the expression of music, the expression of art. So, there is a real significant connection when it comes to our young people and their activism through music. Many of our young people hear lyrics, and are motivated around the lyrics that they hear, and so our hope is that our hip-hop entertainers express conscious lyrics.”
Marching onward in L.A.
In Los Angeles, further plans are under preparation for West Coast memorials of the March.
The Southern California Public Service Workers (SEIU) organization is partnering with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the LA County Federation of Labor to honor the anniversary with a commemorative rally.
Hundreds will gather in Leimert Park to march for change.
“Our members are on the forefront of the struggle for social and economic justice,” Linda Dent, SEIU 721 Vice President, says in a statement. “We’ve got to demand more progress from our elected leaders on these issues we care so much about. By marching together, we’ll unite once again to realize Dr. King’s dream.”
Additionally, the SCLC in association with the Los Angeles NAACP will celebrate the March on Washington’s 50th Anniversary with a free concert, featuring vocalist Lura Daniels-Ball; and the Inner City Youth Orchestra of L.A. will perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
A trail blazed by Rosa Parks
Long-term, Johnson hopes the totality of these rallies across the nation will inspire social progression through a renewed interest in politics and a rise in the American public voice.
Specifically, he wants to encourage people to vote and hold their politicians accountable for the laws they enforce.
“Rosa Parks was really the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and her deciding not to get out of her seat on that bus,” Johnson points out. “Four days before that incident, she went to an event where there was a discussion about Emmitt Till being killed. It pained her to such a degree that a 14-year-old child had been murdered.”
“Today, we have to look at a young child named Trayvon Martin,” he continues. “We hope and believe that, like Rosa Parks, there will be many others that will say no more and begin to react and respond. For us and for me, that is really critical in what is happening during the March on Washington.”