Students of Howard University march to the Lincoln Memorial to participate in the Realize the Dream Rally for the fiftieth anniversary of the March in Washington, August 24, 2013. (Reuters/James Lawler Duggan)
I had little interest in the March on Washington fiftieth-anniversary festivities. I have no problem with taking time out to honor those who came before us and struggled and fought for what gains we have made in terms of racial and economic justice. I’m all for it. But I also believe that the greatest way to honor those folks is by continuing the work to ensure that future generations will have the privilege of looking back into history in horror and not seeing any parallels to their present. However, after Saturday’s events, it was hard not to feel, as Brittney Cooper of Salon put it, that what took place was “eulogy for a bygone era, [rather] than a call to action.”
That feeling of ambivalence and mourning was only furthered yesterday, on the official anniversary of the march, when word came down that Philip Agnew of the Dream Defenders and Sofia Campos of United We Dream had been cut from the roster of speakers. The young people, my generation, were shut out.
The speeches that were given were generally fine speeches, as far as speeches go, but none came close to capturing the spirit of the times in which we live or setting a vision for where we need to go. That’s the purpose of youth voices and that’s what was lacking once Agnew and Campos were told there wouldn’t be enough time for their two-minute speeches. But it also made all the more clear what yesterday was and was not.
Yesterday was not about indicting America. It was a celebration. It was about paying lip service to the myriad forms of oppression that plague this country, without any specific agenda for how to eradicate them. Yesterday was about America patting itself on the back for finding one speech given by one black man to be important to its history. It was not about what brought more than 200,000 people to Washington, DC, that day, or the actual content of that speech, which was a radical call for justice, equality and freedom. Yesterday was not about updating the dream. It was about finding complacency in our progress.
Yesterday was about commemoration. Today is about movement.
When you listen to what Agnew planned to say, it’s not at all shocking why he was cut from the program. His brief speech takes this country to task on a number of issues that would have made the former presidents sitting on that stage squirm in their seats.
His are words dedicated to movement building. They are a warning to America that its youth would not sit idly by as this country continues to walk with pride in its hypocrisy. They are a call to action, not a lecture. Agnew’s words are the antithesis of what yesterday was about, but to the young people who will come across them via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or other social media, they are exactly what needs to be said.