In August 1983 I was one of the 250,000 who chose to memorialize Martin Luther King, Jr., by participating in the 20th anniversary march on Washington. The march was not an emotional high, but it was a thought-provoking experience.
- In 1963 there was amazement that so many diverse individuals, both black and white, would come together in such a large demonstration. In 1983 there was amazement that so many diverse groups would come together in such a large demonstration. Cynics wondered whether any effective political and social action could result from the ’63 march. The same question was asked 20 years later regarding the possibility for any effective coalition from the many groups.
- The overriding and unifying themes in 1983 were (positive) a desire for and commitment to justice and (negative) anti-Reaganism. Opposing the Reagan administration’s policies was certainly appropriate. Urging the election of a new president more committed to “jobs, peace, and freedom” was essential. But chanting by one group of “Two, four, six, eight; tell the people who we hate: Reagan! Reagan!” was totally out of keeping with King’s spirit and strategies.
- The crucial piece that was mostly lacking was the commitment to non-violence. It was mentioned by several speakers, but it was not the approach without which King would not move. Non-violent resistance rooted in love is the prophetic witness that appeals to the consciences of all Americans and all moral peoples throughout the world. Though justice was a goal for all the diverse groups represented at the march, the methods of working toward that justice, other than through the political process, were seldom discussed or even mentioned.
As a group gathered on the 20th anniversary, we had already lost a part of the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. We had lost that part because we had given it up, whether in weakness, unbelief, or exhaustion. Those of us who are dedicated to love and nonviolence must re-commit ourselves to insisting that this is as crucial to King’s dream as the vision of justice itself!