Op-ed: Fulfilling Lincoln’s broken promises to Black America in the spirit of Dr. King, 57 years later

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Sari Finn

Thousands congregated to commemorate the 57th anniversary of MLK's March on Washington.

Sari Finn, contributor

Yes, we are in the middle of a pandemic. But when your people are disproportionately dying because of deep inequities within a system that has existed for the past 400 plus years, we have no choice but to gather in solidarity to demand justice. 

On Aug. 28, thousands congregated for the The March on Washington commemorating the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights figures’ inaugural march. The United States is combating two public health crises at once: the coronavirus pandemic and police brutality. The latter has led to nationwide Black Lives Matter protests

While COVID-19 will eventually be resolved, racism will only continue to grow if nothing is done, as we are fighting for the same equality fought 57 years ago. These are my observations as a Black woman while attending this historic moment. 

 

Young Black Vote

The importance of this day goes beyond the fact that it occurred on the 57th anniversary of the original march. The event brought about a myriad of emotions and feelings, even a fraction of which are difficult to encompass into words. As a young Black woman in America, I was moved to be surrounded by like-minded people my age who are passionate about speaking out and demonstrating against the racial injustice that plagues this country. 

Not only are we excessively targeted and murdered by police, but statistically our access to voting, quality healthcare and higher education is also stifled. The United States government actively works to suppress the Black vote through gerrymandering and problematic voter registration processes which are legal under policies like The Exact Match Law. This law purges registered voters and requires government identification, which prevents those convicted of a felony from voting.

One in 13 Black Americans have lost their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement, compared to one in 56 non-Black voters. These statistics are alarming and should infuriate anyone reading this. Political scientists argue that “voting is an expression of hope, a belief that a citizen’s input into the system will yield social dividends.” However, more often than not, politicians do not give us genuine reasons to be optimistic about their platform, which is reflected in our voter turnout

Despite this, as young Black people in this country, we have a duty to break this vicious cycle. We must combat the deliberate tactics that keep us from voting to begin with. So many of our ancestors have died for our right to vote, not to mention historic figures like Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, who were severely injured and punished for voting. Granted, marching, protesting and rioting are all equally important — as they are the language of the unheard — but heading to the polls is how we will enact real change. 

 

COVID-19 Concerns

With a rising death toll due to COVID-19, it is understandable that some people would have reservations about attending a crowded event like the March on Washington. However, the pandemic just started plaguing us, while racism has done so since this country’s inception. We cannot allow both to kill us. 

In spite of this real and telling fact, as a native Washingtonian, I had no other choice but to witness history unfold right before my eyes. In fact, a recent study revealed that Black Lives Matter protests during the pandemic have not resulted in a surge in COVID-19 cases or deaths.

Now this is not to say the current climate is entirely safe; however, it goes to show the pro-activeness that protesters have taken. I noticed that everyone at the march wore a mask and people were conscious of staying about six feet away from each other when possible. Despite the pandemic, there’s only so much you can do to combat police brutality when the current individual occupying the Oval Office appears to be thoroughly ignoring both health crises — inflaming the streets of America weeks before the presidential election.

 

57th Anniversary Significance

Every year, the March on Washington is truly an opportunity for Black people from all over the nation to unite and express their anger and frustration about being constantly dehumanized as a result of white supremacy. I witnessed a cross-cultural experience in terms of allyship, as white people supported the movement in a non-appropriating way. I could feel the hurt, pain and passion through the chants as we marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial this past Friday — an outcry of all the emotions that have been silenced for far too long. It almost served as a form of therapy. 

Influential 21st century Black women civil rights advocates like Congresswomen Ayanna Pressely and Joyce Beatty as well as Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, all brought the voice of Black women to the forefront for a change. As a Black woman protesting, it is always empowering to see activists you can look up to. Far too many times Black Lives Matter protests fail to emphasize the brutality that all Black persons in this country face, not just Black men. Nonetheless, bearing witness to history also reminded me of how important it is that we all take part in this fight together, as Americans. 

Whether it be Rev. Dr. Al Sharpton or Martin Luther King III, the keynote speakers of the march, or a young Black woman living in D.C. like me, every individual’s commitment to justice and liberation is equally necessary. The fact that we say “Black Lives Matter” is only the minimum — they more than matter, and ending the racism plaguing this country should not be up for debate. That is why we must continue to march. 

As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Our generation is the change; the youth vote does matter. Therefore, please request your ballot and register to vote if you have not already done so.

Sari Finn is a second-year industrial engineering major. She can be reached at [email protected]