Ten years ago, the Million Man March, led by Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam, mobilized 500,000 African American men to Washington, D.C. This year, on October 15th, there will be a “Millions More March,” again called for by Farrakhan but this time involving many other organizations as well.
The 1995 march had a conservative program and was dominated by the idea that black men just needed more “personal responsibility.” It failed to focus on the under-funding of social programs in the black community and the fact that American big business has throughout history super-exploited black workers, unemployed, and youth. No matter how “responsible” individuals are, the entire system is rigged for the rich to prosper and the workers and poor to suffer.
For sure, things have gotten worse for the black community in the past ten years. Since 1995, we’ve seen the prison population increase by over a third, disproportionately affecting African Americans and Latinos. Over 1 million black men are locked in prison. The U.S. has more people in prison than any country in the history of the world!
On top of that, more people are without healthcare than ten years ago. Many decent jobs have been shipped overseas, and the choice between McJobs, Wal-Jobs, the streets, or the military is becoming the reality faced by many youth. In some of the most economically depressed areas (like the Fort Greene Houses in Brooklyn), unemployment is above 80%!
Against this backdrop, combined with the hatred of Bush and the crisis in Iraq, the Millions More March this year will be much different than the one ten years ago. The mobilization is much more inclusive; the appeal for the demonstration encourages “Christians, Muslims, Hebrews, Jews, agnostics, nationalists, socialists, men, women, and youth” to march. Farrakhan’s “family values” have been downplayed in favor of a program for better education and healthcare along with a demand for an end to police brutality.
It is possible that this demonstration could draw tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of people. This would be the largest demonstration by the African American community since the 2001 uprising against police brutality in Cincinnati and possibly since the Million Man March. Along with the Nation of Islam, the march has been endorsed by NAACP chapters, prominent intellectuals, the Million Worker March movement, and some Democratic Party politicians such as Jesse Jackson.
Workers, youth, and the oppressed cannot depend on rich politicians to fight for us to have a better life. The Democrats, just like the Republicans, are a party controlled by rich people, and we can’t forget that it was a Democrat, former president Bill Clinton, who destroyed welfare. Right now, Democrats at the local level are carrying out some of the most vicious attacks on social programs and living standards.
The Millions More March can’t just be a rally to “let off steam” and then go back to supporting politics as usual. The rich and powerful will never give up anything unless workers and youth fight for it. The traditions of struggle in the African American community need to be reborn. In the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and nearly every struggle in this country to improve the lives of ordinary people, African Americans have been on the front lines of the battle.
With the war in Iraq, attacks on living standards, and deteriorating communities, there’s never been a more necessary time to fight than now. A mass protest is a good start, but ongoing campaigns based on militant tactics need to be built to involve the masses of people affected by the policies of big business.
An antiwar, antiracist mass movement for decent jobs and social services needs to sink deep roots in oppressed communities. Through struggle, the radical traditions of the African American community – from the civil rights movement to the Black Panthers – can be reestablished. We need to fight to change the whole system, because as Malcolm X said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”