Fifty years ago, at 19 years old, John Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the March on Washington. In the days leading up to its commemoration, we’ve been reminded that Lewis’ words almost went unheard. After the initial hand wringing from the Kennedy administration had subsided, and fearing embarrassment or violence, intense work was done to ensure that the content of the march didn’t veer into “radical” territory. At the time, critics like Malcolm X denounced the March as something that was in fact orchestrated by the White House.
The truth is that it could have been worst. A proposal to have President Kennedy address the march was only thwarted after a quick thinking Bayard Rustin suggested that if he did so, “the Negroes were going to stone him.”
In truth, Rustin was afraid that the March on Washington would get co-opted by one man. If President Kennedy spoke it would become the President’s march. After his little white lie was shared, the proposal to have the President speak was never mentioned again.
At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a different choice was made.
The President spoke and the young leaders of today were left with the possibility of having their voices left unheard. Three speakers; Phillip Agnew from The Dream Defenders, Sofia Campos from United We Dream, and Alayna Eagle Shield from The Standing Rock Indian Reservation were told by March organizers that there wasn’t sufficient time for them to share their prepared remarks.
Yet unlike the march in ’63; today’s young people don’t need to be standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in order to be heard.
So true to form, and in keeping with the sort of badass creativity we’ve come to expect from these groups – last week they launched a campaign and they’re not shy about what sparked their call to action, stating;
Yesterday at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, The time of Phillip Agnew (Dream Defenders) and Sofia Campos (United We Dream), two leaders representing our generation at the March, were cut. But we still have much to say.”
The campaign then invited other young people to submit their own videos. Yet while “time” has been cited as the official reason why these two minute speeches were scrapped from the program – the truth is that in the case of Phillip and Sofia in particular, the real rationale probably lies in the first fifteen seconds of their prepared remarks.
Phillip’s speech begins:
By the time we finish our conversation this morning another black boy will lay bleeding in the streets of Chicago. And as we rest our heads tonight 300,000 of our Veterans will lay their heads homeless. And I would love to explain to you how the hate we spread abroad is the real reason why hatred washes upon our shores but I only have two minutes. And I can tell you that Philadelphia just closed 23 of it’s schools at the same time as it makes way for a 400 million dollar state of the art Prison and that North Carolina and Florida continue to silence their citizens at the ballot box but I only have two minutes. I could tell you how even as we celebrate Dr. King’s dream, over 400,000 of our immigrant brothers and sisters languish away in privately owned detection camps… and how we still find our queer brothers and sisters in prison of the shadows of their closets but I only have two minutes.
My name is Sofia Campos; born in Peru, raised in California, soon to start my first day of graduate school at MIT. My family and I are undocumented. We have limited if any legal rights in this country that we’ve known for over 17 years. My parents gave their all so that I could reach for my dreams in in turn I graduated from UCLA and committed myself to fighting for all of our dreams with a more just and humane world.
The campaign truly encapsulates a concerted note by Youngist in their write up of the march when they state:
Many young leaders are also rejecting the idea that we are trying to be the “MLK Jr.’s of our generation”, understanding instead that we are apart of a larger legacy of struggle but that are struggles are not the same as those waged by freedom riders, the Black Panthers, the Stonewall rioters and other freedom fighters who have come before us.
Watch Sofia and Alayna’s speeches below.
To participate, record your own two minute video and tweet @dreamdefenders using #ourmarch and #marchon