Recently, our team journeyed to Washington, D.C. for the National Action Network’s Commitment March. The August 28 march marked 57 years since the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have A Dream” speech. According to the National Action Network’s website, the goal of the march was to advocate for comprehensive police accountability reform, promote participation in the Census and motivate voters to cast their ballots in the upcoming Presidential election.
The National Action Network was founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991. With nearly 100 chapters nationwide, the civil rights organization works in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. to achieve “one standard of justice, decency, and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, criminal record, economic status, gender, gender expression or sexuality.”
The trip from New York to Washington, D.C. was made easy by taking Amtrak’s Acela service. Despite the higher price point, the Acela is newer and less crowded than regional trains. The express train eliminated the burden of tolls and stopped in only a few cities, arriving in D.C. after about three and a half hours. It can be stressful to travel right now, so it was a relief to see how clean the train was. The quiet car, basic free wifi and outlets on board provided the perfect environment to research and write articles on our tablets. We utilized our extra time to discuss with one another and prepare for our coverage of the march and our days in D.C.
The café offered coffee and various snack options, and the sliding glass doors made it easy for us to walk through the cars. The reclining seats were comfortable and allowed us to rest before our trip. There were also sections of four seats for those traveling in a larger group. Each passenger could bring two personal items weighing up to 25 pounds, and two carry-on bags weighing up to 50 pounds at no additional cost. Amtrak is currently offering reduced fares for two to six tickets purchased together where riders can save eight to 45 percent.
Luckily, we were able to call Amtrak in advance to ensure we could carry on our folding bicycles. With limited parking available in the city, electric bikes served as a great mode of transportation for many protesters. E-bikes such as the DYU Smart Bike and a custom scooter from Good Vibe Gliders were an affordable alternative to renting a car, and made covering and participating in the march much easier.
The Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks started early Friday morning. Participants marched through the National Mall, many carrying signs remembering those whose lives have been lost in acts of police violence. Others displayed “Black Lives Matter” on flags, shirts and masks.
Some participants created street art during the event, voicing their support through their work. At one point, a number of demonstrators stood together in the Reflecting Pool in front of the Washington Monument. Marchers reached the section of 16 Street NW that has become known as “Black Lives Matter Plaza” around 3:30 PM before dispersing for the day.
Organizers of the march upheld COVID-19 guidelines and regulations. The National Action Network placed multiple signs throughout the National Mall encouraging social distancing, and took marchers’ temperatures as they entered the area. Face masks were distributed to people who did not have one, and visitors from high-risk areas were urged to join virtually from their homes. There was also a testing booth on site, as reported by WUSA 9.
The march was co-convened by Sharpton and Martin Luther King III. Among the thousands of attendees who gathered on the National Mall were the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Jacob Blake. Many members of these families gave speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, along with lawmakers from across the country. These congressmen and women pushed for legislation that would address cases of racial injustice.
Though she was not present, Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris shared her message to marchers via Twitter. In her speech, which was played at the event, she said, “…if we work together, to challenge every instinct our nation has to return to the status quo, and combine the wisdom of long time warriors for justice, with the creative energy of the young leaders today, we have an opportunity to make history, right here and right now.”
Yolanda Renee King took the stage to address the crowd, standing where her grandfather had led March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In a video posted by CNN she said, “We stand and march for love and we will fulfill my grandfather’s dream.” She then led a chant of “Show me what democracy looks like; This is what democracy looks like!”
Friday was also the 65th anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder. The 14-year-old was lynched and thrown off a bridge while visiting family in Mississippi. He was abducted after “allegedly whistling at a white woman,” according to ABC 7 Chicago, and his body was found mutilated in the Tallahatchie River. Till’s family never received justice, as the two men responsible for his death were both acquitted. Till’s murder helped to spark the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. Civil rights leader and former congressman John Lewis wrote that “Emmett Till was [his] George Floyd” in a New York Times essay that was published on the day of Lewis’ funeral.
The trip provided a meaningful experience to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as time to see local relatives. 360 President Vaughn Lowery visited his uncle Leroy Lowery, the former executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, who raised over $120 million for the Stone of Hope.
Leroy Lowery is the son of the late Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights leader who helped Martin Luther King, Jr. establish the Southern Christina Leadership Conference, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Leroy Lowery attended the march with his father in 1963 and stated on Friday, “to see that we have to march [again] 57 years later is deflating.”