Tens of thousands of people are converging on Washington D.C. to commemorate the fifty year anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. President Obama will deliver an address in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the same spot where Dr. King delivered his speech fifty years ago to the day. Now in his second term, President Obama has spoken more freely on race than he did in his first term. In Obama's first term he wanted to be seen simply as "The President" as opposed to "The First Black President."
While the event celebrates the 1963 March on Washington, the title of this event shows that this gathering is more forward looking than backward: it’s called the “National Action to Realize the Dream March.” Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day that people would be judged, “not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.” We are certainly closer to that day than we were fifty years ago, but there are still many reasons that demography is destiny.
Here are 5 reasons that we need another March on Washington.
Let me say going in that these are not “reasons white people have to stop being racist” or “things white people should fix.” This is mostly an observation of issues surrounding African Americans, and what the issues this march will seek to address.
1. Young African Americans earn 75 cents for every dollar earned by whites
This stat comes from a 2011 study by Demos. There is a tangle of factors behind that one statistic, but the end result is that African Americans are born into a world where equal effort does not always turn into equal reward.
2. The average African American lives 4 years less than the average American
Again, this statistic is the end result of factors that stretch from our farm policy to economic opportunity to, of course, our health care system. Still, the final output shows that these factors add up to a stark difference: the average American lives 78.5 years, the average African American lives 74.5 years, according to the CDC in a 2011 survey.
3. Nearly a quarter of black families live in poverty
At the time of the last 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King was facing a world where African Americans couldn’t get even a basic level of dignity and respect in most corners of American society. Blatant racism still exists, but it has been largely marginalized. Now we are left with a society where the people aren’t prejudicial, but the whole system seems to be. According to the 2010 census, the number of African American families living in poverty, 24.1%, is more than double that of all American families, 11.7%.
Now for two political factors.
4. African Americans are marginalized by Republicans because they usually vote Democrat
This is as much a factor for Latinos as it is for African Americans (more on that in the next point). Washington D.C. has a population of 632,323, half of which is African American. Democrats beat Republicans in D.C. by enormous margins. However, the votes of D.C. residents elect no U.S. senators, nor do they provide votes toward the electoral college in the presidential race. The non-voting member of the House of Representatives from D.C. brings a motion to provide statehood to D.C. every legislative session, and she is routinely ignored, even though it has more people than Wyoming and Vermont, and isn’t far behind North Dakota and Alaska. There is no good ideological reason to not give one city representation, it is purely political. Puerto Rico is a somewhat more complicated situation, but it would probably be a state by now if it wouldn’t vote Democratic so reliably.
5. Voter ID laws
While the statehood issue is largely forgotten, voter ID laws are fresh. In North Carolina, a Republican-controlled election board is closing two polling places in the vicinity of Appalachian State University, a majority black college (one of the polling places was at the University itself) to create one super-polling place expected to handle triple the load. Also, North Carolina students may no longer use their student ID to vote even if that ID is state issued. And, wait for it, a non-partisan board estimates that this will all save North Carolina…no money. The whole justification for this was that it saved money, but it doesn’t. The real reason is that those students, especially African Americans, are reliable Democratic voters. And for those of you saying, “eh, what’s a little voter suppression in a reliably Republican state?” North Carolina voted for Obama in 2008 and also elected a Democratic governor and senator.
African Americans have a lot to contend with today, and a new March on Washington can’t solve these issues, but it can rally support and awareness around these issues to build energy toward a day that a person’s economic mobility and political power is determined not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.