From the hard marble floors of the Florida Capitol, to the capital of the United States, Dream Defenders and the emerging youth of this country #MarchOn.
Love, power and excitement filled the air as Dream Defenders from all over the state of Florida reunited at FAMU’s Bragg Memorial Stadium earlier this week. Focused on the same goals that brought the Dream Defenders organization to life, we embraced what awaited us, an opportunity to participate in and speak at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
After arriving in Virginia, we quickly began our schedule with a visit to Howard University for the "We Got Next" pep rally, where we would discuss the future of the Civil Rights Movement. On the way to the auditorium, our brothers and sisters from the Ohio Student Association greeted us with hugs and excitement. Shortly after, we began the "Power Chant," an interactive chant that gives members an opportunity to introduce themselves through dance. This chant drew the attention of dozens of students, faculty, and visitors and lasted over twenty minutes. A complete paradigm shift occurred thereafter. We instantly grew from passing strangers to friends and eventually, family— joined together in song and in solidarity.
The pep rally included organizations such as Global Organizing Institute, Black Youth Project, Black Youth Vote, Service Employees International Union, the A Philip Randolph Institute, the Hip Hop Caucus, Ohio Student Association, as well as the parents of Jordan Davis and leaders from the Howard community. The rally gave us the space to network with youth organizers from across the nation and share our different chants and perspectives. Older participants reflected on what had been done in their heyday and encouraged us to continue the fight. Student leaders discussed the vision for the future, what it looked like and how we could collectively reach our goals.
Howard University’s historical significance and the solidarity gained at the pep rally generated an electrifying energy that propelled us further into the movement, but that energy dissipated shortly after the first march. With high hopes that the second march would be more action-driven, we prepared not only to inspire, but to move people to work.
That opportunity was never afforded to us.
At the last minute, the only youth speakers in the program were cut due to time constraints. Four minutes could not be allotted for the very people that each speaker expressed the importance of, the youth.
These marches were celebrations of what happened in the past, but left no space to discuss what is happening now. As long as Black and Brown people are still disproportionately affected by institutionally racist laws and practices; queer people are still being denied basic citizen rights; immigrants and undocumented people are still being denied basic human rights; women are still being denied autonomy; children are still being miseducated and incarcerated; Jim Crow-like laws still exist; and the war on the poor and homeless still exist, there is nothing to celebrate.
We came to Washington DC with expectations to respond to a mass call to action, but discovered that the commemorations of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington were more symbolic than progressive.
This time and space should have been used to inform the masses about the current issues and for past leaders to pass the torch to the new wave of youth leaders and organizers. This march would have been more appropriate if we modeled a movement we wanted to see. The commemorations would have also been more authentic if there were more youth voices present. The first March on Washington was led by youth who understood their collective power to create change. However, youth were absent or silenced, little to no issues were addressed or discussed, and women’s presence was minimized- the antithesis of what comprised the original march. Today’s youth cannot settle for a celebratory ceremony. So now, we must defend the dream by mobilizing.
The Dream Defenders are taking the opportunity to have this discussion, to unify with other youth organizers and to help one another’s causes in true spirit of change and solidarity by creating our own campaign called Our March. Our March is the platform for the youth to expand our voices, tell our stories and discuss our vision for the future. The March on Washington evoked nostalgic memories of previous Civil Rights leaders’ youth. We are ready to begin our own.
We are beginning by calling on young people and everyone left out of yesterday's conversation around the country to record their own videos discussing their issues and post them all over the place with "#OurMarch." It does not have to be long or limited to simply talking. If you express yourself through dance, song, poetry—go for it. We'll be retweeting these videos, posting them to Facebook and our website to create a national conversation and get our voices heard. This is only the beginning.
Kristian Rainge-Campbell is an organizer for the Dream Defenders. Follow @dreamdefenders on Twitter for updates.