WASHINGTON — Despite the sweltering heat and the ever-present threat of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of demonstrators converged Friday on the National Mall to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And like the march in 1963, many young, hopeful faces could be seen throughout the crowd, intent on continuing the fight for civil rights and social justice.
The original March on Washington, which cumulated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, called for racial equality, civil rights and economic justice. Friday’s march makes the same demands. But this generation believes that this time is different.
“People in my generation, we’re not allowing this anymore,” Bria Thomas, 27, said. “We’re really taking a stand on this. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this today. It’s people of color, it’s people my age, that are really fighting to make a change.”
Bria’s cousin, Micah Thomas, flew to the District of Columbia from Illinois with her mother to attend the march. At 17, she’s a member of Gen Z, an increasingly progressive generation. The march “gives me more of an idea of how I want to change the world,” said Micah, who serves as president of the youth chapter of the NAACP in Kankakee County.
People traveled from all over the United States to participate and continue the protests against police violence and racism during a summer that saw an open embrace of white supremacy and the recent violent deaths of three Black people: Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. The shooting Sunday of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, only strengthened demonstrators’ resolve.
Yolanda Renee King, the 12-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., took the same steps he took 57 years ago and told the crowd of thousands that her generation would be the one to fulfill her grandfather’s dream.
“My generation has already taken to the streets peacefully with masks — and socially distanced — to protest racism,” she said. “And I want to ask the young people here to join me in pledging that we have only just begun to fight and that we will be the generation that moves from ‘me to we.’”
Older civil rights leaders are excited to see younger generations pick up the mantle.
“We are commemorating 1963 because 2020 has become perhaps the most consequential year since 1963 or 1968 when it comes to American civil rights and social justice issues,” Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, told HuffPost. “I’m excited to see the younger generation of activists.” Morial attended the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington while he was in his 20s.
The night before the march, hundreds of young activists and protesters gathered outside of the White House for a demonstration that sought to drown out President Donald Trump’s Republican nomination acceptance speech Thursday evening.
Seun Babalola is one of the founders of Concerned Citizens D.C., a group of organizers that wants to bring structure and demands to the protests in the nation’s capital. “Young people have been at the forefront of the movement since the ’60s,” he said.
But though he respects the lineage of protesters before him, he didn’t expect the march to “push the envelope.”
The march won’t have anything “pushing the envelope too far left; it won’t be anything like you see out here. And that is by design,” Babalola, 23, said.
“That is due to the fact that there are certain things you cannot say if you are within that political machine, within that Democratic establishment. That’s what it is.”