When tens of thousands marched in Russia last weekend, it was a front page story in the New York Times, but the paper printed nary a word when an equal number of people (it was reported that 25,000 attended) rallied in New York City last Saturday.
The marchers may have been ignored by the mainstream media, but they got the attention of the NYPD and hundreds of gawkers, many of whom joined in the walk from 61st Street and Madison, the New York City headquarters of the infamous Koch Industries, to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations.
At the front of the march were the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Charles Rangel, Hazel Dukes and Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, the organization largely responsibly for assembling the massive turnout under the banner of “Stand for Freedom” and the fight against voter suppression.
It was Human Rights Day, and busloads of people had come from across the nation to voice their dissent against those forces set on rolling back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Many of you are too young to have been with Dr. King,” Rangel told the enthusiastic crowd, many of whom had waited patiently in the chilly weather. “But you are here today, when we take back America.”
As if responding to the amber waves of signs depicting the martyrs of the Civil Rights Era, Sharpton, of the National Action Network, said that many had died in order to register voters and eliminate Jim Crow laws. “Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, Jimmy Lee Jackson-they all died to get our right to vote; now we must fight to keep it.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, waving his helmet, said he had ridden his bike all the way from Brooklyn for the event. “There are some who say there is voter fraud,” he began, referring to some GOP officials who are demanding stricter voter ID regulations to guard against fraud. “But that’s just a ruse. They just don’t want poor people, senior citizens and people of color to vote.”
Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, promised moderator Mark Thompson that his remarks would be very brief. “We are the leaders we’ve been looking for; we will occupy democracy and we will occupy the voting booths,” he said as he led a call-and-response chant.
Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of NYC, echoing the passionate sentiments of the previously speakers, said he was “proud of the new resistance movement and their determination to assert their human rights.”
“These are dangerous times we’re living in,” warned John Payton, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, “but we’ve won in the past and we will win in the future. It’s getting harder and harder to register our votes and these efforts disproportionally affect people of color.”
Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, executive director of the Hispanic Federation, like Edgar, kept her remarks short and to the point. “I want to you repeat after me: ‘Oh, no you didn’t,’” she recited, as if to warn those who would trample on her civil and human rights. She said a movement was in motion to start a foundation using those four words.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, and George Gresham, head of SEIU Local 1199, delivered stirring speeches, reinforcing the need to unite in the fight to retain the hard-earned voting rights that are under attack.
Jealous, after a stirring introduction by William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, closed out the event by citing a number of critical fronts on which the NAACP has been steadfast in maintaining its stand for freedom. “We have been fighting for students in Wisconsin, for seniors in Missouri, many of whom can’t find their birth certificates-no, we will not sit passively by and let them steal our future,” he asserted.
His final command of “on to victory,” resonated with the same resolve and energy that the band, with its appropriate version of “Stand By Me,” had warmed the crowd. “We’re all fired up,” Jealous concluded, and that announcement stood in welcome and stark contrast to the chill that sent the marchers home.