Tomorrow's rights march seen as crucial as 1963's

August 27, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON -- Thousands of people from across ethnic, gender and social lines are expected to converge on the capital tomorrow to mark the 30th anniversary of the country's most famous civil rights march.

Organizers and participants say that, in some ways, this march is even more critical to the future of disenfranchised Americans than its predecessor.

"Thirty years ago, we were concerned with social justice and political justice," says Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the NAACP. "Today the theme is economic justice. It has become clear over the last 30 years that we must not only have political empowerment, but economic empowerment."

This time, the march to the Lincoln Memorial will embrace an array of causes, including gay rights, health care, environmental racism and violence against women.

In 1963, 250,000 people joined the March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. issued his "I Have A Dream" speech. That protest led to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act.

Organizers of the 1993 March on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Peace initially predicted that as many as 500,000 people would participate, and they set a fund-raising goal of $1 million.

The projections have been scaled back after reports that Washington hotel rooms are not completely booked and some tour buses to the march have been canceled for lack of participation.

March leaders say they remain optimistic that the event will make a difference not only to the those who participate, but also to the nation.

Mr. Chavis and others are hoping that renewal will begin tomorrow. Following the example of the 1963 march, organizers say they want to use this protest to spur Congress to pass 22 bills dealing with various issues, from gay rights to jobs to health care to violence against women.

While the 1963 march focused on the rights of African-Americans, this anniversary protest was organized by the New Coalition of Conscience, a collection of more than two dozen ethnic, gender, civil and social rights organizations.

Freedom is indivisible," says Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women and a leader in the 1963 protest. "The issues around women are just as important as the issues surrounding ethnic minorities."

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a speaker at the 1963 rally and a prominent civil rights leader, says tomorrow's march would show the unity among diverse groups.

"In the final analysis, this march is saying we're all in the same boat," he says. "When you talk about discrimination, sometimes you only have to insert one group for another. The whole thing about gays in the military, we [blacks] heard the same thing in the '30s."

Organizers say the protest is important because many of the gains won after 1963 have been eroded by recent Republican administrations and Supreme Court rulings.

In the end, march leaders say, the success of tomorrow's march will be judged by what happens in the months that follow. And that depends on how diligently participants pressure their federal and state lawmakers to act, they say.

In addition, the leaders say, the emergence of energetic, smart, aggressive young leaders is essential as older leaders begin to leave the scene.

March leaders deny reports that they have not done enough to include youth in the event. To symbolize the passing of the torch of leadership, organizers have included among tomorrow's speakers 13 people who were born after 1963.

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