It was billed as a consciousness-raising event to mark the Atlanta tragedy, but yesterday's demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial seemed as much an open-air market as a rally.
Park Police estimate that about 5,000 people attended the event, intended to draw attention both to the dead or missing youths in Atlanta and the plight of all abused children.
"If you see the situation as merely children dying in Atlanta, I would venture to say that a rally cannot do much to help," said Camille Bell, mother of victim Yusef Bell and spokeswoman for the committee. "If you see it as a basic war on children in America, then a rally that raises people's awareness can be very good."
But besides those who sought to raise public consciousness about the needs of children, others were using the Atlanta tragedy for their own causes, and still others cashed in on the killings. Flocks of socialists and communists hawked their newspapers, and young blacks operating out of vans at the edge of the monument grounds sold "Save the Children" buttons for 50 cents. Atlanta T-shirts were for sale, along with artificial black roses. Youngsters with rolls of green ribbon were selling strips for 25 cents. There were Atlanta hats and bumper stickers, all for sale.
"If you feel something for our children, you'll want ATLANTA," read the advertisement for a 45-rpm record soon to be released by the Infra Red Funk Band of St. Louis.
"Frankly, it makes me sick," said Dorie Walker, a key-punch operator who had come to the rally from New Jersey. "Who invited them?"
The coordinating group for the rally, called The Committee to Save the Children, also had set up a T-shirt sales table, but they said the money would be used to send children from Atlanta's impoverished neighborhoods to camp.
Three mothers of the children slain in Atlanta had called for yesterday's rally in an effort to focus attention on the problems of children nationwide.
Frustration and its attendant anger marked the words of many of those who attended the event. The killings have been going on for two years now and there have been no arrests.
"I can't believe that this could go on for this long and nothing be done about it," said Juanita Powers, a mother of four from Rochester, New York. "I hope that our presence in Washington will let someone know we care."
"The government is behind the whole thing -- that's why I came to Washington," said Andrea Wilson, requesting contributions on behalf of the NAACP.
Three mothers of children slain in Atlanta had called for yesterday's rally in an effort to focus attention on the problems of children nationwide.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson told the crowd that "society has become too sick," and urged them to fight against all forms of death, including genocide, homicide and fratricide. He said that the deaths of the children in Atlanta had made this country more sensitive.
"Our children cry out from their graves, 'Stop the killing and start the healing,'" Jackson said.