Last week my grandfather and I were discussing the parallels between the DC riots of April 1968 (after the assassination of Dr. King) and the fall out from Hurricane Katrina. He remembers the \’68 riots clearly, and while I obviously wasn\’t there, I\’ve been studying them fervently for the past two years. Strip away the breaking point causes for 1968 and 2005 and what remains are the same underlying tensions, inadequacies, emotions, and arguments.
Before King died he had been planning something he called the Poor People\’s Campaign. The plan was to lead a massive group of the poor people of America — not just black, but of all colors — to Washington, DC. Upon the suggestion of Marian Wright, the people were to construct a \”tent city\” along the Mall in the nation\’s capitol to demonstrate the despicable injustices the poor were experiencing. If necessary, their encampment would even disrupt the workings of the federal government. Under the direction of Ralph Abernathy, the first settlers moved in to what would become know as Resurrection City on May 13, 1968. Eventually 2,500 demonstrators were calling the Mall \”home.\” The demonstration peaked on June 19 (Solidarity Day) when 50,000 other demonstrators from all over the nation joined them. The city brought itself to a halt; after five days the federal government sent out armed troops to disperse the demonstration. Resurrection City was no more.
Though Resurrection City and the Poor People\’s Campaign were considered to have been failed movements, they were ultimately successful in shifting consciousness beyond segregation and toward socio-economic justice: an issue that impacts more people globally as well as in the United States of America. After King died, the movement suffered from a splintering in organization and a lack of management. Without those key aspects, the splinter groups went their own ways and the united movement crumbled. King had been a seemingly irreplaceable universal modifier and so the movement has stagnated.
Between 1968 and the present there have been several events that have sparked similar controversy in the USA, namely the OJ Simpson trial and the beating of Rodney King. However, these incidents focused on only two individuals and not a mass population of people. Media coverage has (finally) brought to light on a mass scale the disparities that still exist even here in this nation. There still is no equality among the races and the economic divide is growing ever greater. There is no socio-economic justice. But now that the entire world is watching and is aware of the brutality of the situation, perhaps we can finally bring about the justice we have been waiting (praying, hoping, begging, fighting) for.
I think it is time to resurrect the Poor People\’s Campaign. With the evacuees internally displaced all over the country, maybe it is time to bring back Resurrection City, both metaphorically and literally. We\’ve seen the horrors in the New Orleans\’ Superdome and Convention Center in the past week, though President George W. Bush did not stop to look for himself. Maybe instead of the Astrodome we should be focusing on a different temporary home — Bush\’s backyard. The lawn of America: the Mall.
Liberty says to bring her the \”tired,\” the \”poor,\” the \”homeless\” \”huddled masses,\” and the \”tempest-tost\” — but she was saying that to immigrants when those very people live here, in the USA. They aren\’t refugees; they\’re your American people. Here we are, we\’re right here, Mr. President…right here in your backyard. Now what are you going to do about it?