The All-African People's Revolutionary Party parade left Meridian Hill Park headed for Georgia Avenue NW, its members carrying the colors of liberation and chanting upbeat slogans calling for the black community of Washington to organize for the revolution.
As they marched through the neighborhoods of Cardozo and Shaw, the group received a rousing response. People joined in, and by the time the parade returned to the park the party had grown by half.
The age of Africa is upon us, the speakers declared. Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Angola are hot items. "Build the A-APRP," a speaker called through a bullhorn. "Become a part of the freedom fight."
But just as quickly as the march ended, so did much of the revolutionary spirit. Vendors ringed the park, hawking everything from T-shirts to carrot cakes, newspapers to bee-bopper caps. Boogie boxes were blaring the latest tunes, while undercover police, dressed in dashikis and other African garb, were busting marijuana smokers left and right.
It was one of the most commercial African Liberation Day activities in the history of the organization, and it served to make a mockery of the party's theme, "a united Africa under scientific socialism." You even had to buy a pamphlet explaining what scientific socialism is. Nobody was giving anything to "the people."
Marching in parades was something that black Americans could identify with; it had the ring of the 1960s. Even those who just watched from the sidelines waved clenched fists and shouted, "Right on!" But that's as far as it went, and if the weekend celebrations were any indication, that's as far as it will go.
"We have to prepare our young pioneers to carry on the fight," one speaker was saying. "The key is to organize, and to do that we need to know more about African culture so we can understand the African personality within us."
It was serious talk, but you could hardly hear it because nearby a group of local youths calling themselves the Playboys were performing a combination Marcel Marceau-Michael Jackson routine to the taped sound from a boogie box.
Before their routine was over, they had as many people watching them as the guest speakers, the sound of Jackson's "Beat It" interwoven with the message from the platform.
"Brothers and sisters," began a speaker from a Palestinian liberation organization. "I ask that you . . . "
" . . . beat it, beat it, beat it . . . "
" . . . so Iraq can stop fighting Iran and put its forces into Lebanon and Palestine."
"You African people," he went on, "you know more about racism than any other people because you have experienced it more than any other, so you must get into action and . . . "
" . . . beat it, beat it, beat it."
A-APRP leader Kwame Toure, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, was walking around backstage preparing for his speech, which would be a blast against capitalism. The problem, he would say, is not poor schools or poor housing. America has enough money to educate and house all its citizens.
The problem is capitalism and the concentration of wealth in the pockets of a few people, he would tell the crowd; the solution, to "rip out the pockets of the rich."
What about all the vendors, whose presence appeared to have been the reason so many people showed up for the day's celebration?
"It'll be destroyed," he said. As I was leaving Meridian Hill Park, I noticed a record album for sale on one of the vending tables. It was called "Stokely Carmichael at the Free Huey Black Forum." It cost $6.95.
This weekend, Maurice Bishop, prime minister of Grenada, comes to Washington as guest speaker at the TransAfrica dinner. His socialist New Jewel Movement supports the A-APRP. But it will cost $200 a table (albeit to aid liberation causes in Southern Africa) to have dinner while he speaks.
It should be clear by now that any group looking for a way to organize black Americans for the cause of Africa must take capitalism into account, for in the final analysis, money talks. Marchers walk. There is no other way to beat it.