March on Washington: 50th Anniversary, Obama Steps Up

Today on the National Mall, thousands celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Rousing speeches and song commemorated the event that set great change in motion, and called Americans to continue marching, continue fighting for the rights each of us deserve: equality, good education, good work, and healthy communities. President Obama’s speech was powerful, a celebration of how far we’ve come, a call to action.

Alex Wong, Getty Images

Alex Wong, Getty Images

(See the whole speech and read the transcript at The Washington Post.)

He said: “Because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. (Cheers, applause.)

Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities.

America changed for you and for me.”

GTY_MLK_march_on_washington_1963_lpl_130801_16x9_608Then, like Martin Luther King, Jr., he asked us all to stand together, to keep the changes moving, to solve the problems we face today in a changing economy and cultural transformation:

“The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history, that we are masters of our fate.

But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.

And I believe that spirit is there, that true force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native born recognizing that striving spirit of a new immigrant, when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who were discriminated against and understands it as their own. That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. (Applause.)

And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.) With that courage, we can feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.

2c058ee58f96f861647d93cb124951a3America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That’s how, when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching. (Cheers, applause.)”

I was on Obama’s Facebook page, “Organizing for Action,” and witnessed something amazing in the chat room, which was buzzing with thousands of posts and thoughts. When President Obama called us all to march, the hashtags started flashing from all over the world:

“I am marching…”

“We are marching….” in NH, in NY, in SC, in Africa…

“I am marching and will help other people march…”

“Patriots are marching…”

“We are still marching…”

“Don’t stop, let the march begin now…”

…and hundreds more.

I’m still learning about the power of social media, and sometimes I’m dubious about its benefits. But I saw its power today, as we all “stood up” and answered Obama’s call to continue the march for civil rights, peace, and a healthy economy.

This is a symbolic historical moment where great oratory reaches into the hearts of a great people. Today, Obama stood in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s shoes, demonstrating his gift as a great leader. In many ways, he embodies the change the civil rights workers sacrificed for. In other ways, he has risen to the difficult role history handed him.

Today, I felt such pride in my country, my flawed and troubled and brave and struggling and wonderful country. It wasn’t only because of President Obama’s speech. But when he called into American hearts, a capstone to this great celebration, reminding us that we are still marching, he ignited the faith and drive to make our march to justice matter. He gave us strength to keep marching.

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