Monday, August 26, 2013

March on Washington: What Critics Will Say

By: The Root Staff 



(The Root) -- "I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." That, of course, was Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who'd run on a platform opposing black voter registration, in a speech delivered in 1963 -- the very same year as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

This month, events commemorating the landmark civil rights event of 50 years ago are planned across the country. There's National Action Network's National Action to Realize the Dream March (Aug. 24), a "Let Freedom Ring" ceremony where President Obama will deliver remarks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28 (the march's official anniversary) and countless smaller celebrations, demonstrations and conferences.


No one expects to hear an explicit chant of "Institutionalized inequality forever" from critics of many of these events' push for modern-day civil rights. Still, it's easy to predict the tenor of conservative opposition to the issues that, in 2013, still motivate Americans to march.

1. Voting Rights

Voting Rights Act supporters outside the Supreme Court on June 25, 2013 (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Assaults on voting rights have as urgent a place in politics now as they did in 1963, when marchers called for comprehensive legislation to protect the right to vote and were rewarded with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Fifty years later, after the Supreme Court's decision to dismantle the act's protection for those people in states with a history of disenfranchising voters, many Americans are left susceptible to new laws that threaten to keep them from the polls. Conservatives' likely response to this generation's activism around this issue? A big shrug. Already, some have basically said that the removal of the act's preclearance formula is no big deal. That's probably true, if your ability to vote isn't at risk.

2. Workers' Rights

Presser by hotel-workers union and other groups, National Press Club, July 23, 2012, in D.C. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

"Workers' Rights have been under attack in states across this country. Low-wage earners in certain industries have been banned the right to unionize and collectively bargain for fair pay, benefits and other protections," reads National Action Network's call to action for its commemorative march on Aug. 24. At least 36 senators think that banning unions isn't a problem and that workers still have too much protection. Just to be sure, more than three quarters of the Senate Republican caucus signed on to legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that could render it virtually impossible for Congress to enact any legislation intended to improve working conditions or otherwise regulate the workplace.

3. Immigration

Immigration protest near the Capitol in Washington, D.C, Aug.1, 2013 (Jim Watson/Getty Images)

Organizers of the NAN march say they want immigration reform -- specifically, amnesty for the many illegal immigrants who are here and the opportunity for them to achieve the American dream. Sounds reasonable, right? But opponents have a list of reasons as long as the one that kept blacks from realizing that goal back in 1963. Then there's that whole thing about how all immigrants are marijuana smugglers with "calves the size of cantaloupes." If it's bad now, can you imagine how much worse it will sound in another 50 years?

4. LGBT Equality

Wanda Lawson and Lauryne Braithwaite after their July 1, 2013, wedding, West Hollywood, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Modern civil rights activists celebrate the fact that 13 states now allow gays to marry and that the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. However, they still want to remedy employment discrimination and other challenges that block the ability of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to achieve full rights. Conservative groups will push back that it's right (and maybe even dictated by God) that discrimination against gay Americans is preserved in just about every area of life.

5. The Rev. Al Sharpton

Al Sharpton and other voting-rights supporters at White House after meeting with president, July 29, 2013 (Mandel Ngan/Getty)

Sharpton involved with a march that has anything to do with race (even though not one of NAN's goals has to do explicitly with African Americans)? You can bet your life that you will hear accusations of "race baiter" before he even gets to the Lincoln Memorial.

6. President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama at Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Aug. 15, 2013 (Getty Images)

The president is set to deliver remarks at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an Aug. 28 "Let Freedom Ring" ceremony. You know what that means. This is just like when he talked about race in America for the first time, and when he -- God forbid -- discussed race in the context of reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict. Certain commentators will let you know that the leader of the free world is obviously racist.

7. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at a press conference in 1964 (Wikimedia Commons)

According to a common (and often intentional) misreading of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech that was delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, King did not want anyone to talk about race, ever. So he would be really upset about the discussion of, say, the voting rights of minorities and, in fact, is not a fan of any of the issues driving the commemoration of the march. At least that's what some people will tell themselves.