Pomp and Circumstance
Aug 25, 2013

My initial impressions of the Redeem The Dream March - what was and what wasn't

Saturday, August 24, 2013. I was given an opportunity to be a part of history, so I took it. But I've got to tell you, when your day generally starts at 4:30 am and you're told that the bus into history is leaving at 1:30 am, it gives you pause. Of course I took a nap, but working a full day and turning right back around to start your next day when you're usually sound asleep is more than a notion. I met another person who was riding down on the Urban League of Philadelphia bus as we both got off of the SEPTA bus to arrive at the departure location. A few more people were already waiting in the parking lot as we walked up, and immediately there was a buzz of excited chatter from this group of 20-and-30-somethings about wanting, or needing, to feel like they are a part of something vital and bigger than themselves. Our bus driver was greeted with hugs. The mood was exceedingly celebratory.

Our Philly group was one of the first to arrive at the Grand Hyatt in DC, of the Urban League delegations who were not staying overnight at the hotel. Slowly and steadily, groups began assembling in the ballroom for orientation, where they were greeted with classic soul and house music instead of the usual spirituals and chants. Funkadelic and Bob Marley, rather than Odetta and Mahalia. Interesting. To set the tone for the day ahead, Urban League President Marc Morial took the podium to introduce a short program of faith leaders and other notables, rounded out with a reflective presentation from Rev. Jesse Jackson. And then, we took to the streets.

The sea of commemorative red tees and signs made quite an impressive visual as we marched through downtown DC, making our way to the Lincoln Memorial. I was moved by the number of families in attendance: elders, parents and young children, very glad to be among the number. Fraternity and sorority members wearing paraphernalia to be easily identified as present. I was particularly moved by one older gentleman with a spring in his step who was wearing a baseball cap from President Obama's second inauguration, his choice of attire demonstrating that he was keenly aware of the significance of this day and others he chose to witness firsthand. On we marched--past the Washington Monument, past the back of the White House (where many people paused for a quick photo opp), past the World War II memorial and on past a gated-off Reflecting Pool, toward the Lincoln Memorial and the main stage. Joining thousands. Prepared to be inspired.

Now, for a bit of a reality check.

Whoever designed the logistics of the March staging should offer a refund. Unless you were as close to the stage as was physically possible, or in a specific area near the only other Jumbotron and sound setup, chances are you could see and hear very little of the formal program. The courtesy of providing free water all throughout the area and the abundance of portable restrooms showed that there was consideration given to personal courtesies, but there were absolutely no food or beverage vending trucks anywhere except on the extreme periphery of the area. If you didn't bring snacks with you, you didn't have anything until you left the March. And at no point did it seem wise or effective to have a program of nearly 200 speakers spread out over 5 hours at the podium. Lesser-known invitees were given a strict 2-minute block and their mics were shut down promptly afterwards. This created a very unceremonious cattle call effect as speakers circulated to and away from the podium, greatly decreasing the collective power of their words. In essence, a lot of it became background noise that was easily drowned out by conversations happening among the crowd. But the crowd, for me, is where all the action happened.

Throughout the morning, I was able to engage quite a few people in casual conversation, many who were carrying thought-provoking signage for their various causes. Ending racism, supporting unions, increasing funding for public education, fighting discriminatory changes in laws, empowering youth, challenging US foreign policy...it was a stunning array of sociopolitical awareness and concern. People of every stripe were happy to chat about what brought them out on a gorgeous August day to lend their voice to a new movement for positive change. Regardless of who convened the group and what they represented on that stage, the essence of what is possible in America was scattered throughout that crowd of thinking, cheering, marching people.

I am not sure what other people walked away with, but the message for me is clear. Very little of the March was about Dr. King's famous speech or what happened 50 years ago, particularly for the youth. This was about reminding ourselves that there are numerous activist agendas happening in our nation, and everyone is ready to see something happen. Those who showed up wanted to prove to themselves and anyone else in the crowd that they are ready to engage. It would be criminal to allow that feeling to dissipate without giving everyone a pathway to continue uniting around common goals and challenging the issues that will make us safer, smarter, healthier and more whole. Now that the mic is silenced, may the Movement's voice remain loud and consistent. And may we always march, literally or proverbially, on a path of righteousness.

Here is last week's playlist: