Monday, September 8, 2008

Are Marches Still A Viable Option For Bringing About Social Change?

Although marches have often been used as a tool to help encourage social change, this tool is only effective when it is combined with other strategies.

Historians often give a myopic view of how the marches of the 60s were a catalyst for civil rights advances for African Americans. We frequently hear that the March on Washington, the sit-ins, and other public rallies were successful in forcing America's hand when it came to racist practices. However the potency of protest tools such as: community organizing, boycotts, education, and economic self-reliance are often downplayed or down-right forgotten. The all-important spiritual factor is also hardly ever mentioned.

Martin Luther King Jr., himself- one of the most famous march organizers in history- contemplated the effectiveness of marches as a political tool to bring about the necessary changes that the Black community needed. In, "Let The Trumpet Sound," a biography about Dr. King, the author- Stephen B. Oates, notes how Martin Luther King began to refine his reliance on marches as a political strategy. An excerpt from the book states: "The failures of Chicago had convinced him that the southern tactics of street marches and demonstrations were unsound in the northern ghetto. As he [Martin Luther King Jr.] pointed out, a march down a street in Selma, Alabama was a revolutionary step, but a march through the northern ghetto was scarcely even distracting because the turbulence of city life absorbed the march 'as mere transitory drama.' In the south, the street march has caused a social earthquake. In the North, it was only 'a faint, brief exclamation of protest.' Something else had to be found 'within the arsenal of nonviolence,' a new approach that would salvage nonviolence as a tactic, as well as dramatize the need for job and economic advancement for the poor."

It should also be noted that Dr. King also staged successful boycotts, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Also, at the time of his death, he was organizing a "Poor People's Campaign" that was to combine the tools of public protests, boycotts, and civil disobedience at the gates of Washington to disrupt the government's daily meanderings.

It is important for people who are trying to replicate some of the success of the past to have a full and accurate picture of it. If the vision is not clear, failure is inevitable. With that being said, we all must ask ourselves, "How will we bring about the necessary changes in 2008?"

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