Black-Led March in NJ: We Need More Like This
by Carl Webb
This belated post is a brief report on Saturday’s demonstration in Newark, NJ. Despite the genuinely unpleasant hot and humid weather and the timing (the next to last weekend of the summer), about 1,500 people turned for the rally and 1,200 took part in a march down Broad Street past the Federal Building and City Hall through a major shopping area in downtown Newark.
Along with the successful demonstration at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, ME, on the same day, it marked the unofficial start of the fall Iraq War protest season. And it was a very good start, with lessons I can only hope are taken up by the broader antiwar movement.
The most important thing about the People’s March for Peace, Equality, Jobs & Justice, as Fire on the Mountain has emphasized repeatedly, is the fact that was called by a coalition initiated and led by forces in the Black community in New Jersey.
This had profound effects on the March, both on how it was built and on who took part. The slogans and call to the March drew clear connections between the occupation of Iraq and issues confronting the community. These were presented in an organic way, rather than, as too often happens, tacked on by organizers hoping that’ll substitute for the difficult work of building ties in oppressed nationality communities.
Two examples from among many should suffice. Both speakers and community groups at the rally pointed out that opposing the violence in Iraq should be matched by fighting against police violence right here, and especially against violence within the community. One rally participant had lost his son in the nationally covered shooting of three college students in a Newark playground earlier this month.
It’s what brought out James Harvey, whose 20-year-old son, Dashon, was one of the three killed. Harvey stood off to the side in Lincoln Park as watched the speakers take turns at the podium. He wore a tired expression on his face, but said he wanted to show up.
“Anything to stop the war,” Harvey said, “to stop the guns and the violence.” And the last speech before the marchers set out was delivered by Maretta Sharp, president of NOW New Jersey, who used the war and the need for unity in opposing it to talk about scapegoating and warn that African Americans must not fall into the trap of being pitted against immigrants.
As for participation, one way to look at it is to check out the coverage, overall pretty favorable, in the Newark Star-Ledger on Sunday. The article starts by talking about four year old twins brought by their father from suburban Howell Township, and repeatedly describes and quotes folks who traveled to Newark from other — and paler — parts of the state.
But no mention is made of the largest contingent at the March, the 100+ members of the People’s Organization for Progress, hard to miss in their bright yellow t-shirts. POP has been the group which has been the driving force of the New Jersey Peace and Justice Coalition. (And they didn’t put away their “Impeach Bush” signs just because Representative John Conyers was a featured speaker.)
In fact, the march, while nowhere near as pale as these events usually are, was largely white, but the Star-Ledger piece misses something very important: the white folk who came were largely experienced antiwar protesters who came by themselves or in small groups. A majority of the African Americans present were part of larger organized contingents. In addition to POP, for instance, there were good-sized crews from the Irvington NAACP branch (whose president Kathleen Witcher issued a powerful statement hailing the march the next day), from RWDSU Local 108 with their union banner, and from the Nation of Islam who turned out about 60 members (and impressed all present by appearing not to be affected in the slightest by the brutal heat despite the men’s suits and the women’s Islamic dress).
This is one key answer to the oft-raised question: How can the antiwar movement get folks who are against the war to act against the war? By working with and mobilizing groups to which people already have meaningful ties, especially groups whose members are affected by the war. We should hope that, in their summation of the march, the organizers discuss why some of groups which signed on to build the march had such strong organized turnouts and others were pretty much invisible.
One person I spoke with after Saturday asked, “How old were the marchers?” Well, I gotta say that’s something else to be worked on, but there was a world of promise in those who did come, including several members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. IVAW’s newly elected National Treasurer, Margaret Stevens, gave a speech which electrified the crowd . And I spotted a posse from Bloomfield HS, college students from the new SDS and members of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation.