How Social Movements Matter

How Social Movements Matter

How Social Movements Matter

How Social Movements Matter

Excerpt

On August 28, 1963, between 200,000 and 500,000 people (depending on who made the estimate of the crowd size) marched on Washington, D.C., to lobby for the civil rights bill that President John F. Kennedy had sent to Congress on June 19. It was the largest political demonstration in the United States to date. Although this massive protest was dubbed the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom'—thus combining civil rights and economic demands—the recent civil rights mobilizations in Birmingham gave demands for freedom much more emphasis than those for jobs. The march had been organized at a meeting held on July 2 at New York's Roosevelt Hotel, attended by the leaders of the six major civil rights organizations. After two months of intense preparation, everything was ready for the march. Tens of thousands of participants, most of whom came on buses charted by local branches of the movement, gathered at the Washington Monument and assisted at a morning entertainment featuring several singers sympathetic to the movement, among them Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Then, before noon, demonstrators began to march, heading to the Lincoln Memorial, the stage of the main rally and a highly symbolic site for the organizers on the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite the authorities' fear of a riot—among other precautions, 15,000 paratroopers were put on alert—the event went on peacefully through speeches and songs heard by the huge audience. Finally, Martin Luther King Jr., the leading figure of the movement at that time, stepped up to the podium to deliver his closing address. His speech began with the following words: “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation' (cjtd. in Kasher 1996: 120). By the end, what should have been an . . .

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