As young millennials construct a path to travel into a radical space of direct action and youth led social change, it is imperative that we critique and learn from many of the mistakes that were so blatant in our 1960’s civil rights movement and with the 1963 March on Washington. Bayard Rustin –being the visionary that he was— understood the necessity to be radically inclusive. His life not only stood at the intersections, but his message declared the criticality of coalition building between groups who stood at the margins.
The March on Washington commemoration (I use “commemoration” very purposefully) this week served as a moment for us to reflect on the last 50 years. Some say we have come a long way since Bayard Rustin organized the first March on Washington in 1963—btw, he did so without the technological capabilities that we take for granted today (no facebook, no twitter, no instagram….not even a cell phone and he still brought out 250,000). However, as many remain wedged in their nostalgia, I assert that we “aint” came as far as many would like to conclude. And young people for the first time in a generation, have decided to do something about that.
It often feels more as if we are marching on a treadmill, always the illusion of progress, but hardly moving forward. If liberation is being stagnated, it is essential to familiarize ourselves with the litany of issues that our elders were fighting in 1963 and compare them to the very same issues we are STILL fighting today. The two lists almost look identical. (Read: voting rights, segregation in our education system, institutional racism, rampant poverty, egregious unemployment, the attempt to dismantle unions and unfortunately the list goes on.) Once we identify where we have not moved forward and often where we have been more reductive than progressive, it will allow us to build strategies for a generation of fearless youth to embark upon.
The iterative problem with the civil rights era was the lack of difference placed at the center of the movement. If we are able to advance in what is a fresh energy-filled youth movement, we can no longer settle for the homogenous, heterosexual, cisgendered and male dominated movement demographic. Furthermore, we must make sure our organizing does not take on the sexist, homophobic and hyper-masculine nature that often pervaded the civil rights movement. That is to say, we must constantly question who is speaking within this movement and be careful not to further marginalize as we all fight for a better life. On August 28, 1963 ten men spoke, as if to be male is synonymous with holding the voice of communities which have not had the opportunity to speak.
Thus, as the life of Bayard Rustin represented, we MUST be intentionally inter-sectional. Rustin lived his life at the intersection and taught us that we can never afford to leave vulnerable groups out or leave any oppressed voices behind. This is one of those few opportunities where history allows us to either fight for justice, or admit that we are more interested in the “individual” as many prefer to sit and watch the collective suffer.
I am excited about a movement that will grow over the next year. I am excited that we have a chance to change the fabric of inequality and injustice in our country. I am excited that youth will yell, shout, and act before we allow another black or brown boy to be murdered and convicted as guilty of a crime that was committed against him. I am excited because there is radically inclusive coalition building happening between youth movements across the country. (Read: BYP100, Generational Alliance, Advancement Project, Dream Defenders, Alliance for Educational Justice) I am excited for what is to come, because “youth that dream and poor people that have nothing to lose” makes systemic change inevitable.