Tag: March on Washington

The real reason Republicans boycotted the March

“80% of life is showing up”

By Alan Bean

Why did every single Republican official who was invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington decline?

The easy answer is that they aren’t big on the civil rights movement, but that’s not true.  When push comes to shove, Republican leaders are willing to admit that Jim Crow laws were a bad idea and that equal access to the American dream is a good thing.  They might not have anything good to say about the civil rights leaders of 2013, but they are capable of honoring Martin Luther King when the occasion calls for it.  In fact, they even held their own quiet, unpublicized commemoration featuring the handful of black congressional Republicans earlier in the week.  Associating with conservative Blacks is always a winner for Republicans.

Attending an event organized by mainstream Black America is another question entirely.

The Republican Party may be embarrassed by the fact that not a single member of the red team accepted an invitation to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last Wednesday and say some nice things about civil rights.

But here’s the problem, the snub didn’t look good to Black people (of every political persuasion) not did it impress white liberals.  But, the culture war being what it is, these people won’t vote Republican under any circumstances.

The simple truth is that snubbing civil rights leaders doesn’t hurt Republicans politically and it might even help.  No one wanted to be the only representative of the Republican brand associated with last weeks commemoration.  It wouldn’t send the right message to the only voters that count to most politicians–primary voters.  That’s where the real election takes place in most districts.

True, snubbing the organizers of the event reinforced the Republican reputation as the Party of White; but how many conservative white voters care enough about that to switch their votes.  Five?  None?  Somewhere in between?

On the other hand, being associated with an event this public–especially if you are the only Republican on the podium–could lose you the votes of the Tea Party types who vote disproportionately in Republican primaries.  It might not be a big effect.  You might only lose a few hundred votes.  But when you know that appearing at the event won’t gain you a single vote it doesn’t take a math whiz to work the equation.  Speaking would have been a net loser for most Republicans and they have the political sophistication to know it.

Woody Allen once remarked that 80% of life is showing up.  That’s certainly true for congressional Democrats.  All they have to do to look good in the eyes of Black America is to make an appearance.  The expectation bar has been set that low.

John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had to sacrifice a major element of their political base (the Solid South) to do the right thing.

Democrats like Barack Obama and the Clintons win the support of Black America simply by showing up.  Nice work if you can get it.

What would King make of Obama?

By Alan Bean

Casey Sigal is an unsentimental Englishman who worked the civil rights beat in the early 1960s.  This piece in The Guardian touches on themes often ignored in mainstream reporting of this  week’s commemoration of the March on Washington.

The march, Sigal reminds us, unfolded against a backdrop of fear bordering on dread.   Prisons had been emptied to make room for the scores of people sure to be arrested.  This is the way official Washington still looked at Negroes in the summer of 1963.

Moreover, the movement itself was sadly divided over tactics.  If Martin Luther King Jr. is the man most of us associate with the March on Washington it was probably because of his unique ability to maintain dialogue with the old civil rights establishment, the young firebrands associated with SNCC, and the incendiary leadership of Malcolm X.  All sides grudgingly agreed to let King take center stage because they knew he understood where they were coming from even if he couldn’t always agree with their conclusions.

King was a feared man in 1963.  He came preaching peace and forgiveness, but John and Bobby Kennedy knew they couldn’t embrace King’s message without kissing the Dixiecrat South goodbye.  John Kennedy died a few weeks later because his heart, if not his head, was with the civil rights movement and everyone in the South knew it.   King was willing to whittle down white fear to a manageable size, but he made no attempt to placate it altogether.  White racism was, and remains, an irrational, some would say demonic reality that must be rejected without reservation.

It is the question that introduces and concludes this piece that really intrigues me: what would MLK make of president Barack Obama?  Sigal doesn’t think the civil rights giant would be too impressed.  What do you think?

Remembering my time at the 1963 March on Washington

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary, we must ask: what would the Rev Martin Luther King think of Obama’s presidency?

By Casey Sigal

Saturday 24 August 2013 07.00 EDT

March on Washington

Crowds in front of the Washington Monument at the March on Washington. Photograph: Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

In 1963, a teenage woman civil rights worker in Albany, Georgia, said, “If you’re not prepared to die here then you’re not facing reality”.

Any of us who participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a combination of sweet nostalgia and mixed feelings about its “legacy”. For me, and so many others, the event itself was redemptive and personally transforming. It had been a terrible year for African Americans and civil rights activists, a blood-drenched inventory of violence that included the jail beating of Fannie Lou Hamer and assassination of Medgar Evers. So on that Wednesday, 28 August, when 300,000 Americans from right across what I call the “decency spectrum” descended on an almost deserted Washington, it was as if a Norman Rockwell painting had come alive. (more…)