This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.
Some could remember the original march well. Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.
Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights.
But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice. Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all.
We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote. He called it “precious…almost sacred.” Lewis recalled:
I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.
Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium. Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying:
I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.
Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement. Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.”
And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.
We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today. As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:
That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.
Recently The New York Times reminded us that Representative John Lewis is still marching on Washington, 50 years later.
On August 28, 1963, as the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis took the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Tomorrow, as the 73-year-old representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district, he will commemorate the 50th anniversary of those remarks.
Representative Lewis returns to the podium as the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington.
Here at YP4 we know that “justice for all” is an expansive idea that includes pushing for and protecting civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT equality and more. It means rededicating ourselves to the promise of vibrant, safe, democratic communities. It means fighting for a country where our voices are not drowned out by massive corporate spending to influence our elections. It means standing up to groups like ALEC which push extreme laws threatening the wellbeing of our communities, such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws that YP4 alumni like [Phillip] Agnew – leader of the Dream Defenders in Florida – have been fighting to change.
In other words, we know that “justice for all” is a promise that has yet to be realized.
Join us tomorrow as Representative Lewis and others once again bring the struggle for jobs, justice, and freedom back to the nation's capital. Check out MLKDREAM50 for information on the full week of events.
Guest post from Reverend Dr. Geraldine Pemberton, Assistant Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia and member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council.
As a 74 year old retired nurse, I can remember the original March on Washington well. I wasn’t able to be there in person that day, but many of my family members were. After marching with Dr. King and more than 200,000 other Americans, they were inspired to come home and fight for justice.
I myself am of the Jim Crow era. The injustices that Dr. King described that day as the “chains of discrimination” were injustices I faced first-hand. My father, who was born in North Carolina, would take my family down from Philadelphia for visits to his home state. He would try to prepare us as much as he could, but it was always overwhelming. I remember that once we passed the Mason-Dixon line, we couldn’t use most bathrooms. We would have to use outhouses behind gas stations instead.
Today I can see how far we’ve come, but also how much further we still have to go. I have spent much of my life fighting the injustices that drove the first March on Washington, especially health disparities facing women of color. Justice, I have learned, is a very big umbrella that must include equality for women. A just society has to be one that values women’s voices and fights back against health disparities that threaten black women’s lives.
Twenty years after that march, I went to another major event that inspired people from all over to drop what they were doing and travel across the country – the 1983 Spelman College conference on women’s health, which birthed what is now the Black Women’s Health Imperative. My friend and I saw a flyer for it but didn’t think we could afford to go. We maxed out our credit cards and drove down to Atlanta. Thousands of women showed up for the conference – young women, older women, women with children, women who had hitchhiked there. We just showed up - we had to be there.
That conference unfolded into a lifetime of work in pursuit of improving the health outcomes of African American women. As a former Director of Nursing and a current Health Committee Director for an alliance of Black clergy in Philadelphia, I know that women of color need improved access to care and greater provider sensitivity. Women need more information on the diseases that affect us most. And as a 74 year old Philadelphian, I’m still fighting for women’s health and justice. This year I am organizing health forums at churches throughout the city to give women more information about diseases, healthy living, and greater access to health services though the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act commonly known as “Obamacare.”
The first health forum is this weekend – fifty years after the March on Washington. In so many ways, we are still marching.
We here at People For the American Way Foundation are deeply saddened by the passing of Julius Chambers, a trailblazing civil rights lawyer and former People For the American Way Foundation board member. In the 1960s, Chambers opened what became the first integrated law firm in North Carolina and later went on to lead the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Throughout his life, he fought and won cases on school desegregation and discrimination, including a case on public school integration – Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education– that went all the way to the Supreme Court and paved the way for the use of busing to counter segregation.
But as the New York Times noted yesterday:
Mr. Chambers’s victories came with a cost. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Swann, his offices were firebombed. After his successes in 1965, his car was firebombed and two bombs exploded in his home.
His response was defiant; he said he would “keep fighting.”
More than forty years later, during a 2008 PFAW Foundation panel on the future of the Supreme Court, Chambers made it clear that he was still fighting. He underscored his commitment to “us[ing] the courts to correct the injustices that we see still perpetuated today,” including discrimination against low-income people.
It is not difficult to see why the North Carolina NAACP chapter described Chambers as “a man of tremendous courage.”
Last week, People For the American Way Foundation joined a campaign to fight book censorship in a Colorado school district. The censorship battle began when a group of parents launched a petition to keep Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye out of the Legacy High School curriculum. Legacy High student Bailey Cross started a counter-petition emphasizing the dangerous precedent that this censorship would set and encouraging the school district to keep the book on the approved reading list.
PFAW Foundation sent a letter to the Adams 12 Five Star School District Board of Education showing support for the student’s campaign and urging the district to reject the attempts at censorship.
The efforts of the Foundation were highlighted by the Denver Post yesterday. Staff writer Yesenia Robles wrote that the parents involved claim the book is “developmentally inappropriate” and should be kept out of the classroom.
People For the American Way Foundation disagrees. Robles reports,
"We do understand this book has themes and content that are really challenging, but that's why it should be taught," foundation spokesman Drew Courtney said. "An important role of classrooms is to help students and young adults deal with that, to have those conversations in an intelligent way in the classrooms. Offering an alternative assignment is appropriate, but banning a prize-winning novel isn't prudence. It's censorship."
See the full Denver Post article here.
“If one book is banned from being taught in a classroom setting, then it opens the door for all books – and ideas – to be banned as well.”
These are the closing words to a petition launched by high school student Bailey Cross in response to an attempt to eliminate Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from the high school curriculum in her Colorado school district. The school board will have to decide the fate of the book in the district’s classrooms, which a local news source has reported could happen as early as August.
In their petition, the students point out that parents or students who object to the reading assignment are already offered an alternative novel. In addition, teachers are not forced to teach the book. The outright elimination of this important piece of literature from the classroom would set a troubling precedent.
Today People For the American Way Foundation sent a letter on behalf of our 718,000 members to the Adams 12 Five Star School District Board of Education urging them to reject the attempts at censorship. The letter notes,
“Since it was first published in 1970, The Bluest Eye has been the target of censorship attempts because of its frank portrayal of racism and sexual assault. But shielding high school students from these subjects and from Morrison’s discussion of them does nothing to eliminate them from the world. Instead, Morrison’s nuanced discussions of difficult issues serve to help readers understand, discuss, and confront those issues…
“Our nation’s schools are meant to be places that encourage the free exchange of ideas.”
Let’s make sure we keep them that way.
In what the Miami Herald is calling the “longest sit-in demonstration in recent memory,” a group of more than sixty young people called the Dream Defenders came to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office last Tuesday and have not left.
Arriving at the Florida Capitol just a few days after George Zimmerman was acquitted, the group is pushing for a special legislative session to take up a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act which would repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law and address racial profiling, the school-to prison pipeline, and more. Among the many young people in Gov. Scott’s office is Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, a 2005 graduate of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) leadership development program, as well as eight to ten other current or former YP4 Fellows.
Agnew told the Miami Herald that the work is broader than their specific demands:
“It’s also about a paradigm shift,” Agnew said. “It’s about empowering the next generation.”
PFAW Foundation has been helping support the courageous young people at the Capitol in any way we can, from providing administrative and financial support – including meals – to sending video cameras to help document their experiences. Young People For Director Joy Lawson highlighted the sit-in in a Huffington Post op-ed and is leading a powerful photo campaign collecting statements of support for the Dream Defenders.
Together, we are showing the Dream Defenders, and the country, that young people are standing with them in this fight.
Few Americans would argue that they want to see more big money flowing into our political system.
Yet yesterday the Republican National Committee asked the Supreme Court to strike down limits on the total amount an individual donor can contribute to campaigns in a single election cycle, filing an opening brief in what is sure to be a high-profile Supreme Court case. If the RNC and the Republican donor who together filed the case in Shaun McCutcheon, et al. v. Federal Election Commission are successful, the limit on aggregate individual contributions per cycle could jump from $117,000 to $3 million.
As PFAW noted in February, this case threatens to be the next stage in the ongoing attack on our country’s democracy. By calling for a gutting of our country’s campaign finance reform regulations, Republicans are ignoring the majority of Americans who believe there is already far too much big money being poured into our elections.