by Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In a stern admonition to the troops, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan promised that the Millions More March will be a big tent affair that will take in any and everyone. He added a tough sounding and "I mean it" to his admonition. He may well mean it. But that doesn’t mean that it will happen. A group of gay leaders made an impassioned appeal to Farrakhan to feature a gay speaker on the podium. That may happen. But the fact that they even had to plead with him raised suspicions that gays may still be pariahs to many blacks, and that includes Farrakhan.
In a 1997 TV interview with conservative pundits, Evans and Novak, Farrakhan railed that homosexuality was "unnatural" and that he’d discourage the practice whenever and wherever he could. Gay leaders hoped that the passage of time had softened Farrakhan’s dogged homophobia, and that the March was a chance to show that. His foot dragging and silence on the gay speaker request dampened those hopes.
But it also showed that the march is Farrakhan’s call. The upside to that is he’s still the only black leader that blends the charisma and militant rhetoric to ignite the passions of many blacks. The downside is that wrapping the mantle of leadership tightly around one man reinforces the terrible notion that blacks speak and think with one voice on racial problems.
When Farrakhan makes a real or contrived misstep, much of the media and the public assumes that most blacks agree with him. They, and Farrakhan, are ridiculed, lambasted, and vilified as being rash, fool hardy, irresponsible and prone to eternally play the race card on every social ill that befalls blacks. That includes being tagged with the label of anti-Semitic. It happened this time. The moment Farrakhan announced the Millions More March, the Anti-Defamation League again loudly screamed that Farrakhan is anti-white, and anti-Semitic and by inference, anyone that backed him and the march, was too. Conservative radio talking heads had a field day when Farrakhan claimed that the New Orleans levees were deliberately blown to wipe out blacks. They belittled him and blacks as paranoid, irrational, and prone to see conspiracies under every bedpost.
Their criticisms don’t mean that the march is a waste. Farrakhan has focused on poverty, and more specifically the Katrina suffering of the New Orleans black poor. If nothing else that makes it significant. But it will take much more than a day of Bush bashing to tackle the crushing problem of poverty.
That takes a sustained, comprehensive, plan and the full commitment to actively lobby for greater resources, and programs for the poor. It also means engaging the poor in that fight. That was the aim of Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s Poor People Campaign in 1968. King and campaign organizers spent months reaching out to anti-poverty groups, poor whites, Latino, and American Indian groups to make that happen. There’s little evidence that Millions march organizers have done much of that.
The Million Man March targeted the thousands of young black men that had turned to gangs, crime and drugs, and who preyed on black communities for spiritual redemption and self help uplift. The problem was the March drew largely middle and working class black business, professionals, academics and students.
They were not the ones terrorizing their communities. It had no ongoing plan, program, or structure, to energize violence prone blacks and give them hope for the future. They had no real reason to lay down their guns.
Also, many blacks treated the Million Man March as a rock concert or revival. They enjoyed the show, patted and hugged themselves, called it a symbol of black male power. Some of the marchers did take a stab at forming a sprinkling of local Million Man March Committees, held conferences and meetings and launched voter registration drives, support for small businesses, campaigns against drugs and gang violence, and marched for affirmative action.
That didn’t last. The committees were short-lived, and the initial burst of enthusiasm of the March participants quickly died. Without a plan, program, and structure to actively fight poverty, the same fate will befall the Millions More March. The enthusiasm that drove thousands of black men to Washington a decade ago, and thousands more today, will also fade. In another year, the black poor who were supposed to be the reason for the march will be just as neglected and forgotten.
The Millions More March may well be the last great hurrah for mass black march spectacles. If it truly is an inclusive gathering, pounds out a real program to fight poverty, and is not solely a knock Bush fest, and a showpiece for black America’s most magnetic, and controversial leader, it will be worth the time and effort. If not, the march will be less not more than promised.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.