I remember the solidarity

August 5, 2013

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where a quarter of a million people gathered during the height of civil rights movement. Several prominent civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the National Action Network are planning this year's rally, which could turn out thousands to take a stand against racism.

As she organizes for the upcoming march, Boston activist Sofia Arias looks back on her first experience at a march on Washington.

I'VE BEEN thinking about my first protest lately--especially after some of the reactions from some radicals and comrades to the National March on Washington that have dismissed it because it's been called for by liberal organizations.

The event will have Democrats speaking from the front, and some activists fear that it will only further legitimize the Democrats, that it won't accomplish anything and that people are being naïve, etc.

But if that's your overriding fear, you miss the opportunity to engage with a potential 100,000 people in motion. I radicalized before I ever went to a single protest. I stewed in my anger against imperialism and Islamophobia.

But then I met the International Socialist Organization on campus. I got on the bus and went to my first national demonstration in 2007 at a point when the antiwar movement was already waning. Other ISO members had probably been to a bazillion of those protests, but it was my first.

It had 300,000 people, and of course, did not take up Islamophobia, and was called for by liberal groups with Democrat speakers. But I actually don't remember who spoke that day from the front.

Al Sharpton's National Action Network is organizing for the Aug. 24 March on Washington
Al Sharpton's National Action Network is organizing for the Aug. 24 March on Washington

I do remember the exuberant feeling of marching with tens of thousands of people against a war on brown people, and knowing I was actually not alone. I do remember marching in the ISO contingent, the loudest and most vibrant contingent, and feeling amazed that these people took up chants in solidarity with me and other Muslims, and chants for the right of oppressed people to resist.

This was in the heart of the belly of the beast--when no one else really was. It mattered to see that solidarity was real and possible.

I don't remember any of the politicians who spoke that day. I don't remember any of the speeches. I do remember the chants and the political conversations I had. The movement was on the decline, and it would be buried when Obama was elected, but for all its weaknesses, it was the movement I found political expression in. And organizing with the ISO made me become a socialist out of it.

Conversations these past few weeks, with Black comrades especially, have made it so clear how deeply isolating the violent oppression and racist polarization of America is today. We need to pay attention to that isolation, when a march takes up localized struggles from New York City to Florida, and puts them forward as demands on a national platform against Jim Crow.

People will be changed by their experiences not because they'll remember whatever Nancy Pelosi said from the front, but their experience asserting their rights and demands and the solidarity they find around them.

Because we are socialists, we know experiences don't go away--they accumulate. We have to ask, what will people who come back from D.C. do when they go back to their workplaces, schools and neighborhoods? And will we stand with them, and organize, every step of the way?

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