By John Halpin
It’s the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous speech from the Lincoln Memorial, perhaps the most deservingly admired direct action in American history. There’s been many laudatory overviews and commentary on the occasion, but in terms of the March’s lessons for our time, it’s important to keep in mind its organizers’ underlying theory social change: protest and mass gatherings only get you so far in terms of achieving concrete social change. The March’s masterminds and leading civil rights figures believed we need a sustained political movement to achieve lasting transformations to America’s social and economic order.
By 1965, the march’s chief strategist and organizer, Bayard Rustin, had traded protests and sit-ins in for the more mundane tasks of registering voters, organizing coalitions, and making legislative deals. Rustin explained the political strategy behind the shift in famous essay, “From Protest to Politics.” His basic insight was that a movement moving beyond addressing legal segregation to addressing other, subtler social inequalities needed to develop a broader vision of political action:
Let me sum up what I have thus far been trying to say: the civil rights movement is evolving from a protest movement into a full-fledged social movement—an evolution calling its very name into question. It is now concerned not merely with removing the barriers to full opportunity but with achieving the fact of equality. From sit-ins and freedom rides we have gone into rent strikes, boycotts, community organization, and political action. As a consequence of this natural evolution, the Negro today finds himself stymied by obstacles of far greater magnitude than the legal barriers he was attacking before: automation, urban decay, de facto school segregation. These are problems which, while conditioned by Jim Crow, do not vanish upon its demise. They are more deeply rooted in our socio-economic order; they are the result of the total society’s failure to meet not only the Negro’s needs, but human needs generally…
Read More What You Can Learn About Social Change From The Organizer Of The March On Washington | ThinkProgress.