In commemoration of the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” at the 1963 March on Washington, the NAACP pushed through to organize a march fit for 2020. Over the course of August 27 to August 28, activists, government officials and allies came together to reflect, recharge and reassemble the Black Lives Matter movement as it is and as it will continue to be.
This year’s March on Washington kicked off with a solely virtual event. The night began with a montage of protest footage, from the Civil Rights Movement all the way up to this summer’s protests. NAACP Derrick Johnson set the tone for the movement’s forward action, acknowledging the necessity in nurturing young activists and listening to the wisdom of elders.
“Making this a movement, not a moment, is critical,” he said.
After a slew of pre-recorded speeches that ranged from Rev. Al Sharpton to Mahershala Ali to Stacey Abrams (and performances that included a powerful “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R.), the evening closed with a discussion moderated by journalist Errin Haines.
The panel Heard from the likes of activist Tamika Mallory, Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Porsha Williams and Rev. Leah Daughtry. The group reflected on the death of Breonna Taylor, the intergenerational dynamic of the movement and the inherent action of Black women in these protests.
“I think we’re in a perpetual state of rage,” Mallory said. “We’re living in a crazy moment… but there is something beautiful that I see coming.”
From the screen to the capitol
Friday served a reminder, even for those who watched the march from their laptop screens, of the power of collective human energy. For over three hours, speaker after speaker spoke their truth, emphasizing the how personal the Black Lives Matter movement is and its vast necessity. One of the first speakers was Alaya Eastman, who reflected on the white supremacy foundation of America, explaining why our country’s issues of racism are systemic. Eastman is a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“We have so much good trouble to get into,” she said.
Like the evening before, the pre-march speakers varied from movement leaders to government officials. Each was united in the purpose to evoke sentimentality, power and action from their audience.
"Get involved w/ one or more of many worthwhile struggles in your community … Get into good trouble & do it nonviolently." @OfficialMLK3 at #MarchOnWashington names the #PoorPeoplesCampaign as one of those worthwhile struggles! Join us:https://t.co/Uq6f2tPBZK #NonstopToNovember pic.twitter.com/WWQCmUnbUN
— Poor People's Campaign (@UniteThePoor) August 28, 2020
A group from Milwaukee walked all the way to Washington D.C., and rallied at the call of their leader’s name when he was announced to speak. Frank “Nitty” Sensabaugh pinpointed that he was protesting for the same purpose as his grandfather. He does not want to see the same for his grandkids.
“This is not a negotiation. I came here to demand change,” he said. “I’m tired of asking for justice.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley also looked back on the elders of the Civil Rights Movement: “The truth of the matter is, we are because of them.”
The Get Your Knee off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington came at the end of a week that began with the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha, Wis. policeman. Rightful anger and sadness in reaction to Blake’s shooting (alongside the many others in 2020 and beyond) could be refueled by the invigorating message imparted by Pressley.
“Another world is possible. Yes, it is possible to legislate justice and accountability,” she said. “If it feels unfamiliar, that’s because it has never been done in America.”
Dr. Jamal Bryant also offered words of inspiration. “Even when you render us paralyzed, we still know how to crawl,” he said. “We are like butterflies… they crawl and then they fly.”
A motivated movement
Over the course of the next couple of hours, the National Mall began to fill. The last of allotted time for speeches was given to the families of the people who were murdered by police. By this time, the steps surrounding the podium were crowded. The mothers of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin spoke, as did Eric Garner Jr. Someone next to the podium waved around a photo of Michael Brown.
“There’s not even enough time for us to hear from every family,” an organizer announced, signaling it was time to march. There wasn’t enough time because police killed so many, he said.
The evening reconvened virtually to bring the March on Washington to a close, reflecting on march highlights and showcasing musical performances. Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign gave the keynote speech.
“We can stop the murders of our sons and daughters by racist police or any criminal that dares to kill our children, our people in our community,” he assured. “We can build a third reconstruction that overturns the long train of abuses, the long train of injustices and that we can fully secure life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.”
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) August 29, 2020