I took a bus from Harlem, New York, the morning of March 28, 1963, with friends from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Northern Student Movement. We left about sunrise and the bus was filled with energized black people from the city. I was part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in spirit, because I had been living in Georgia the previous two years and had been both a Freedom Rider and a pamphleteer for SDS. We were riding on a wave. Never before had I been among so many marchers and activists from all over.
Our little group was aligned with SNCC’s John Lewis, who was writing a speech under great pressure from the civil rights leadership to tone it down. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech was “for the ages”, but John Lewis’s question, “Where is our party?” has been relevant ever since.
Our mission was to push the racist Dixiecrats out of the Democratic Party through direct action and coalitions with northern liberal Democrats and labor. Our second mission was to add the economic demand for jobs to the goal of voting rights. Thus, we would build a powerful progressive coalition to turn America away from the Cold War nuclear arms race and toward the domestic agenda of civil rights, voting rights, jobs and dealing with automation.
President Kennedy, who initially worried about the March, turned around and was beginning to recognize that our causes were linked. It was a utopian moment, before our hopes were dashed by assassinations and Vietnam.
You can measure the importance of a revolution by the power of the counter-revolution, which still goes on in the form of the Tea Party, voter suppression, Citizens United, anti-immigrant policies, cuts in social programs and the flight of jobs to sweatshops abroad, all to resist the multi-racial majority of Americans from triumphing politically.