What's wrong with wanting a new black movement? What's wrong with wanting some kind of mass momentum toward a common goal?
Listen to Erin Scriber. Listen to her frustration. She is a 23-year-old senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, and though she will soon graduate with prospects for her own life, she laments the problems faced by those less fortunate. That is why she came to the Millions More Movement on the Mall yesterday.
Her generation is barely connected to the history of the old civil rights movement, she says. Many of her peers, especially those in the thug life, are not shaped by the old code of honoring their people, their families. Those things are lost, just unknown, for many youth.
"There's no connection," she says. "It's not being taught in the homes. You have so many people whose parents are only 17 years older, 16 years older, and aren't able to show them"
"There's no sense of history," she says. "I think it's important for us to be here for that -- just so we can feel a bond. As a black person, this is where you need to be today."
We can (and probably will) debate till the end of time the question of leadership -- whether the controversial troika of Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are appropriate guides for a new movement. But it would be absurd to debate whether a movement has a place, as the tens of thousands of folks who gathered on the Mall yesterday seemed to be saying by their very presence that they favor the formation of some kind of loose body that can speak for them, can represent them.
Several people interviewed during the day-long event expressed the belief that there remain so many social, economic and moral deficits within the black community that a mass movement can help assuage them.
"We need several leaders," said John Deberry, 45, a Durham, N.C., businessman.
"Several different outlooks," said his 45-year-old wife, Renna, a management trainer.
There can be "many different movements," John Deberry said, "but we got to have one major movement to keep us all committed to the same goals."
"United we stand, divided we fall," he said. "It's just that simple. We ain't got to agree on everything. You don't even have to like me. But let's come together for the common goal of uplifting the black people."
It's happened in cycles, over and over, through black history. Black progress has been achieved through black movements that pushed down barriers.
The anti-slavery movement of Frederick Douglass. The Niagara movement of W.E.B. Du Bois. The anti-lynching movement of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee movement. The back-to-Africa movement of Marcus Garvey. The NAACP. The civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Not to mention the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, Operation Push and more, with the Nation of Islam providing a strong bass current through the black community.
Those movements speak of a people's yearnings. And though the context has changed, the striving continues. It is part of what it means to be black in America.
It is why the Million Man March 10 years ago had such power, drew so many and is remembered so fondly, even though the movement it set in motion largely withered.
Deberry was here for that one, too. He felt the power 10 years ago and hoped to recapture it yesterday as he lay on a blanket in the sun next to his wife, who recalled how impressed she had been a decade ago when he returned home so peaceful, so renewed.
"I think black people have to have something to keep us focused. We stray so easily," she said.
"I think what she means is, all we hear on the news and in the papers is negative things about the black community," her husband added.
Yes, the murders and shootings and drug crimes -- the bane of black people hoping for a better image for their community in a society where many still are prone to paint all black folk with the same brush. Each death diminishes a people already feeling the stresses of racism or inferiority, even the label of "minority."
Danica Blue, 21, another Temple student, said she combats that by saying: "Okay, I am part of the minority group in this country. But I can obtain so much more than they [white people] want me to. My parents instilled that in me. You're not inferior to anybody."
But she says she feels that many others still believe -- especially among young black men -- that "because I'm black I have to settle," that "I have to be on the street selling."
Is it really that simple? We go to the drummers, calling out with their rhythms, to see who has gathered in their quarter. We run the gantlet of the hawkers selling everything from disposable cameras ("one for $7, two for $10") to Koranic bumper stickers ("We won't get there if we don't get together") to buttons ("Kanye West was right") to T-shirts ("Take a stand, black man," quoting Malcolm X).
There in the crowd, we see three young black men ambling along, grabbing brochures, soaking it all in. They are from Memphis. They are brothers. And they know the pressure is on them, or people like them, to make some changes.
Anthony Graham, 19, and Sean Brown, 18, attend Southwest Tennessee Community College. They are here with a larger group, on this great adventure into movement politics.
"It's a show of black force, that black people have something to say," Brown says, complaining about "the levees," raising his eyebrows to emphasize the lack of maintenance that left black communities in New Orleans in harm's way.
Brown and Graham know racism's thousands of cuts, too. They have seen white people cross the street when they approached. And why, says Graham, didn't that white bus station manager allow his mother to use the restroom when they arrived here?
They also know something of the street, having been lured into a life of no good before getting on the college track. Sure it's the money. Sure it's the excitement, the girls. But it's something more, something harder to describe.
"Black people don't trust each other," says Brown. People get in fights just for a wrong look.
Brown steps away and appears to think about it some more, to think about why it's so hard for young men to walk away from the streets, even if they strive for something better. Suddenly, he steps back in and says, "Fear of being your own person and doing your own thing."
Graham seconds him: "They just gonna put you down and say you ain't nothin' " if you try to break away and be something.
Unity. That's what they want. Not all this negativity, all this fear and insecurity.