Ever since I was a little girl, I remember listening to my parents' stories about how they'd marched with Dr. King in '63 or shouted the hippie slogan "Give peace a chance!" during anti-war demonstrations of the late sixties. I was always in awe of the student activists, hippies and Black Panthers who all came together for a common cause, fighting for their rights and stoking revolutionary fires.
You see, it's going to take a powerful force to reach my generation, the one that watched hip hop go from a revolutionary cry to a materialistic mantra. Our lack of activism should be a big concern, especially because so many of us are raising kids of our own. That's why I attended the Million Youth March in 1999, the Redeem the Dream March last August and most recently The Million Family March on Oct. 16. But there, on the national Mall in D.C., as I stood in a sea of tens of thousands of people, shoulder-to-shoulder with young and old, Black and White, I couldn't help but feel skeptical despite searching for hope and possibility.
The agenda -- or lack thereof
Although the march's program was broken down into themes like "Challenges to the Family," "Exalting Women," "Honoring Fathers," "Spiritual Foundation of Marriage and Family" and other family-oriented topics, I felt the emphasis was on "what we should do" versus "what we would do." True, we were all encouraged to pray together and vote in the upcoming presidential election, but where was the agenda for addressing real, everyday issues and problems that our people face? Where were the examples of how to promote positive interaction between husband and wife, parent and child? Where was the advice to young fathers on how to raise their sons to be good men -- particularly if they'd never known their own fathers? Where was the advice to mothers on how to raise their daughters to keep their legs closed and their minds open?
A march or entertainment?
March organizers heavily promoted celebrity appearances including Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and Macy Gray but in the end, few turned out. I wondered, is that the only way they think people will come out?
Not that it was necessary. Many marchers I talked to felt that they -- not celebrities -- were the true stars of the show. Charmayne Wilson, a twenty-something sister from Detroit who was there with her three sons and mother, said she could not have cared less about entertainers. "It might have been cool to hear Mary J. Blige perform," she said, "but that's definitely not why I came."
For Marcie Gould, 25, attendance was a must, regardless of who performed. "I'm so excited about the march I don't even care about the singers and stuff," she said. "I'm hoping to come away from it with a bigger sense of unity between me, my son and my husband."
Hassan Bennett, who made his way through thick crowds bouncing one son on his shoulders and guiding another by the hand, agreed. "This is about togetherness. That's what I'm teaching my kids -- unity."
That's all good, but don't we still need a specific action plan?
Harriet Rosebud of New York City, who came with her husband and two children, had an answer: "People expect too much from the marches. They expect the world to change after they walk away from here but that's not really what it's for. It's just used to mobilize people so they can come together in peace and talk about their plans for the future. If one or two people here change their lives, it's worth it."
Okay. But shouldn't folks get more for their trouble? Some people traveled across the country searching, hoping for that inspiration to change their lives. After eleven hours, they would not find much in Minister Louis Farrakhan's keynote speech. Although his remarks -- which mainly touched on issues of multiculturalism, world peace and religion -- were fairly well received, Farrakhan didn't discuss a specific plan for moving Black families forward. Somewhere between the Arab-Israeli conflict and White supremacy, the main message -- the family -- got lost in the rhetoric.
If a few people left inspired to improve their lives and our communities, the march had some degree of success. But as far as I could tell, that was rare. If the last few "Million" marches have shown us anything, it's just to expect another march.
Perhaps, as marcher Harriet Rosebud said, we do expect too much from a march. That revolutionary spirit of the sixties that my parents embraced may be just that -- the spirit of the that time. My generation may have to create its own means for social and political change.