NO ONE THOUGHT it would -- and it wasn't: yesterday's march was not the march of 1963. It was different. The march of Aug. 27, 1983, was less focused, less thematic, less morally intense and more diffuse. It was also more political in a particular sense. There were stretches, hearing the rhetoric-- the boilerplate, really--that some of its speakers thought fitting for the occasion, when you might have imagined you were sitting through those preliminary, time-killing sessions at a Democratic National Convention when speaker after speaker jumps up and down on the Republican adversary.
Down with Reagan!--that was the message. We do not speak as particular admirers of this administration's attitude to civil rights. The administration itself will be pleased to tell you that. But we do think that so far as the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is concerned, anyone who believes that the Reagan government is the problem and its replacement the solution is living a different kind of dream: a pipedream. And in truth it is precisely because the terrain has become so much more complicated than it once was, because so many different interests and values and claims have come into conflict in the drive to fulfill the promise of racial justice, that a renewal of the essentially simple and unassailable moral proposition involved was a good and necessary idea. There were many speakers who, in various parts of their speeches, did handsomely recapture and rekindle the commitment that the 1963 march was all about.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson himself, speaking eloquently of progress made and new challenges yet to be overcome ("Apartheid--illegal segregation--is over. But 20 years later we do not have equalty. We have moved in, now we must move up . . ."), called attention to the classic, mean irony. Progress inevitably reveals new barriers and troubles, or, more exactly, barriers and troubles that one did not even have the luxury of addressing before when so many stark, elementary injustices had yet to be addressed.
With or without romance and nostalgia, it is almost impossible to recreate the mood and condition of civil rights in 1963 with any fidelity. Few now remember and even fewer seem to want to remember the apprehension that seized both blacks and whites as to whether such a march could be peaceable at all. How much the nation was to experience and learn-- much of it bloody and painful--about the politics of mass mobilization in the years to follow. And how innocent and gentle that march now seems in retrospect. It is almost as difficult to remember what life was like then in respect to national and local policy and practice on racial matters.
Our sense of yesterday's march is that--unsurprisingly, given the horrendous difficulties and great disappointments attending the current effort to achieve social and racial justice in this country--it revealed a movement that has yet to find its most persuasive theme and its voice. We also believe the act of assembly was essential and that the fundamental commitment it honored is as alive and compelling today as it was in the days when Martin Luther King Jr. lived.