I have been listening all week to the multiple commemorative perspectives on the 50thAnniversary of the March on Washington. From Saturday’s First Amendment Demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial, through multiple speakers; through the National Urban League and NAACP and even tribal dances and multiple versions of Amazing Grace; many different feelings arose all around me. While thousands of Americans and visitors of every demographic waited en masse, the Secret Service herded everyone into were to be checked into a zone that required more scans and security checks than an International Airport without an organized set of ropes between any kind of isles. Upon arrival, I watched hundreds of attendees waiting 4-5 hours to get inside the perimeter. The level of security made the hoses and riot police in Alabama seem more real than the simple systemic control that (as a people) we take completely for granted without thought or protest in the year 2013.
As a communications professional, I was utterly amazed and somewhat chagrined that there was suddenly not one 30th, but two separate events. Rev. Al Sharpton knows full well that segmenting a limited audience and dividing their activities into two disconnected events lead to a disengaged population who would have liked to be involved (whether they were looking only to theoretically be a part of history, or simply to learn how they can begin to take part in moving the country back toward a path that at least feigns an attempt to recognize the needs that MLK put out there 5 years before I was born).
Millions of people around the globe watched and listened through thousands of media outlets--each projecting different aspects of this landmark occasion. I am doubtful that any of the viewers were likely to get a bona fide sense of who is there; or how many of them experienced Rev. John Lewis trying to remind and reunite. Unfortunately, his points put the accent on the barriers while keeping the faith those viewers could (by osmosis) internalize the need to address the barriers without being too overwhelmed to do so. All of this while hoping and praying that we can do assume these responsibilities without turning against one another in the process. It’s true that these efforts have been convoluted a lot in the past 50 years due to an intense and dedicated effort of multiple groups to combat the change before 1963 and facilitate reversion as much as possible. Isolating multiple demographic groups of Americans and convincing them that they were each vying for a limited pie without sufficient pieces. Successful attempts at distraction and blurring the focus of citizens to the point where they were not even advocating for themselves or their own financial, philosophical, moral or political goals or issues. This was not accomplished through segregation, but rather, segmentation.
Every day since August of 1963, political and philosophical advocates have hoped to combat every looming change under The Civil Rights Act of 1964 knowing full well that the best way to combat a wave of true transformation was not by rubbing the public’s noses in it, but instead using subtle tactical methods. Thousands of vigilant steps were taken to maneuver society toward the illusion where they appear to be promoting and facilitating the right to vote, while simultaneously are in fact undermining patriotism and proactive citizen involvement. In the past 50 years, multiple transitions from affirmative action to unions to elimination of poll taxes have shifted into multiple states trying to revert to a Voting ID law and through all but literally reapplying a poll tax deliberately impede voters of specific demographics from being represented in an election. Why should Americans keep the faith in the government having their own best interest at heart, while simultaneously indicating state by state that they want poll taxes to make their way back to states that have a “minority majority”?
The penal systems, war on drugs, Citizens United etc., have succeeded in intimidating millions of Americans into fearing or avoiding proactive debate, peaceful demonstration or even uniting voices. Overall we have become a population who generally sit by ourselves even in crowds staring at an iPhone Android or Galaxy completely oblivious to the fact that “we the people” includes us all.
All of this continues while our country experiences multiple progressions and recessions. We have recently experienced the demise of Glass–Steagall and attempts like Dodd-Frank to readdress the reckless behavior that deregulation brought to the economy. Can Americans doing multiple minimum wage jobs, impossibly deep in student loan debt truly understand the potential for a better world? The baby boomers can try to remind us about societal improvements. Doesn’t it fall a bit flat for Generation Xers and Millennials as we and our parents losing ground economically, socially and psychologically? Of Detroit succeeds and is soon followed by Cleveland, St. Louis, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Baltimore and Philadelphia? If they eliminate pensions for people who worked for many years right as they are defenseless in old age, why should any American believe that they will be thrown under a similar bus when they become physically vulnerable? While we’re at it, what about all the recent talk of trying to treat soldiers better than our returning veterans from Viet Nam? How do we anticipate that while underfunding the VA with limited prospects for them to get gainfully employed?
When we look at the ease of our populations’ distraction and polarization of goals we need to stay focused on which goals are common enough to attempt to bring about. What are our priorities: government size? Reducing national debt or opposing tax increases? The Tea Party began with one message that, and became a party tool. While it doesn’t reduce the validity of their opinions, it certainly undermines the philosophical goals and hands them over to a government that simply wants to keep their own jobs. Similarly, Occupy Wall Street tried to address social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government. That is, until they moved off the basic message of “We are the 99%” and became fragmented into every philosophical angle possible from gay rights to anti war to where they made Woodstock seem much more focused.
How to address the multiple American populations is complicated. At the 50th Anniversary Clinton and President Obama basically said so. Perhaps it is possible for us to get together and re-attempt the drive to changes that are just as needed now as they were in 1963. But with rampant fragmentation, millions of separate voices can’t or won’t hear one-another although they do have multiple common goals and needs. Remember, all of the demographic sections who marched in 1963 did not get along with one another, (and their kids and grandkids don't get along now). On the other hand, if we can actually get past the feelings of anger, abandonment, isolation and segmentation, perhaps even we can realize the common goals we do have. At the end of the day, of course Americans will re-attempt to reach the societal goals projected in both 1963 and 2013, and if they can stay focused (and to some extent united), freedom may actually be allowed to ring.