Sixty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a historic march in Washington, D.C., at a time when the nation was at an inflection point. Hundreds of thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, as Dr. King called for better wages, jobs, voting rights and true representation, fair housing, and equality across the board.
Six decades later, so many of those hard-fought gains are under renewed threat, along with an increase in hate crimes and democracy itself hanging in the balance. We as a country are at a crossroads; do we continue on the path of progress, or do we revert back to the dark days?
The vast majority are united, and we will raise our voices in unison for a clarion call for fairness and justice at the March on Washington once again.
My organization, National Action Network, and I have been diligently working with Martin Luther King III, Arndrea Waters King, and the Drum Major Institute as we place the final touches on this momentous demonstration. We will lead a coalition of 60 national groups that span across racial, cultural, religious, and generational lines at this pivotal event on August 26 in D.C.
The 60 partner organizations for the 60th-anniversary march include the Anti-Defamation League, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the NAACP, the Center for Reproductive Rights, UNIDOS, the National Urban League, GLAAD, and so many more. At a moment when all of our civil rights are under attack, a united front is the key to pushing back against both a climate of hate and mechanisms that would like to undermine all that we have achieved.
In March, the FBI released an updated report on hate crimes in 2021 (the latest year for which data is available). According to those stats, hate crimes rose 12% from the previous year, with 65% of victims being targeted because of their race or ethnicity. We continuously learn about attacks on Black and Brown folks, members of the Asian community, the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the LGBTQ+ community, and others.
White supremacist groups are on the rise, and some elected officials (and others seeking office) have only fanned the flames of this hatred and created an environment of fear and uncertainty for so many. We say, no more.
At the same time, laws are being implemented that strip away reproductive rights and civil rights. Last year, the Supreme Court dismantled abortion rights and opened the floodgates for legislation around the country that severely limits a woman’s right to choose and her ability to maintain bodily autonomy.
Just this summer, the highest court in the land effectively ended affirmative action in higher education, which will have a detrimental impact on Black students’ enrollment in many institutions. Several Republican attorneys general have even attempted to extend such measures into corporate America by putting pressure on Fortune 100 companies to not adhere to DEI programs or any race-based personnel decisions.
The Supreme Court also limited LGBTQ+ protections earlier this summer by ruling in favor of a web designer who wanted the ability to refuse to create websites celebrating same-sex weddings. The Court also destroyed President Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness program, which will directly impact Black and Brown students and adults the most as they carry a disproportionate amount of debt compared to their white counterparts.
And, of course, back in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act itself, essentially eliminating the requirement that localities with a history of discrimination get approval from the federal government before enacting changes.
As a result, dozens of states established strict new voter ID laws, eliminated early voting days, closed polling locations, and more. New restrictions are being conjured up even today, making it more and more difficult for people to cast their vote.
While we raise awareness around these issues and organize, we are simultaneously fighting back against continued police brutality. Despite a few signs of progress, like the prosecution and conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin (for George Floyd’s death) and the DOJ investigating police departments like the one in Memphis (following the death of Tyre Nichols), there are still far too many incidents of police abuse, shootings, excessive force and a criminal justice system in need of dire reform. This is why we still demand passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
When Dr. King convened that massive crowd 60 years ago on the National Mall, he demanded civil and economic rights for the Black community, and laid out his dream for America. While we celebrate the advancements achieved since that historic moment, we recognize the clear and present dangers before us.
That is precisely why the 60th anniversary March on Washington won’t be a commemoration, but rather a continuation of Dr. King’s work and vision.
When I founded National Action Network in 1991, with the support and blessings of the King family, I vowed to carry on his fight for freedom, fairness, and justice. On August 26, that continued push for equality and Dr. King’s dream will lead us once again to the nation’s capital.
As our multiracial, intergenerational demonstration meets at the Lincoln Memorial and marches to Dr. King’s memorial, I am reminded of his timeless words:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Reverend Al Sharpton serves as the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), anchors “Politics Nation” on MSNBC, hosts the nationally syndicated radio shows “Keepin’ It Real” and “The Hour of Power,” holds weekly action rallies and speaks out on behalf of those who have been silenced and marginalized. Rooted in the spirit and tradition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., NAN boasts more than 100 chapters across the country to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunity for all.