Friday, 28 August, marked the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King Jr. had given his legendary speech, I Have a Dream. In it, King had called for an end to racism and advocated for the civil and economic rights of African-Americans. Now, 57 years later, activists are still fighting for the same goal at the exact same place — the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
Dubbed Get Your Knee off Our Necks Commitment March in honour of George Floyd, it had been in planning since Rev Al Sharpton announced the event during Floyd’s funeral, back in June. From then on, the organisers had worked on how to highlight civil rights issues and bring well-known speakers while also mitigating the spread of the coronavirus with safety protocols.
Finally, on Friday, thousands of people from all over America assembled, even amidst the global pandemic, to protest against police brutality and to demand justice for the African-Americans who were victims to the broken system — like George Floyd, who was choked to death by the police; Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot at her own home; Jacob Blake, who received seven gunshots in the back in front of his own children only a week ago; and many, many more.
Marchers called on the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 — the latter of which would ban the use of chokeholds and establish a national record of police misconduct. Additionally, many civil rights advocates cast President Trump as an obstacle to their goal and deemed voting him out of office in the upcoming election to be the first step towards a solution.
And, as Al Sharpton had announced in June, the march was led by families that “know the pain” and know what it’s like to be “neglected”. The now-paralysed Jacob Blake’s sister and father were among them, and so were the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
“Black America, I hold you accountable. You must stand. You must fight, but not with violence and chaos,”
— Blake’s sister, Letetra Widman, said while addressing the crowd.
George Floyd’s sister, Bridget Floyd, had a similar message. She said, “My brother cannot be a voice today. We have to be the voice. We have to be the change.” Breonna Taylor’s mother, on the other hand, brought up the importance of voting out Trump in November by saying, “We’re at a point we can get that change. But we have to stand together — we have to vote.”
Aside from the families, the speakers included Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, his daughter Yolanda King, and LGBTQ+ and Hispanic activists, showing solidarity to the BLM movement. Even the democratic vice-presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, recorded a message prior to the event that was played on screens around the memorial.
Martin Luther King III had told CNN before the march that while his dad would be “very proud that people are coming together to stand up against injustice”, he would also be “very sad that we’re still trying to get justice”.
His twelve-year-old daughter, too, mentioned her grandfather in her powerful speech and then went on to make a promise, “We are going to be the generation that dismantles systemic racism once and for all! Now, and Forever!”
Founder of National Action Network and one of the primary organisers of the march, Rev Al Sharpton himself said, “Society has its knee on our neck. We are rising up. We are going to get your knee off our necks!”
And, as the crowd roared its approval to the speakers, their voices struck a note of optimism in the hearts of Black people all over America and around the world — just as Martin Luther King Jr had in 1963. One man from Dallas told CNN, “It’s a huge moment for us as a people.” While to the New York Times, a woman from Phoenix said, “This feels different than other times. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but we’ve been too complacent before. This generation feels different.”
At the end of the speeches, the half a mile long crowd marched to the Martin Luther King Memorial in the sweltering heat of the afternoon, and from there, they moved on to the WWII Monument.
Although the event came to a close soon after, its spirit stayed with all those who attended, and all those who were watching from home. Because, even if it was just one step in the long, long road to equality, it was one step filled with hope; one step filled with promise; one step that has the potential to give rise to a thousand more. Just as Martin Luther King III said in his speech, “Together, we’re taking a stand. We’re taking a giant step forward on America’s rocky but righteous journey towards justice.”
The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.