The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

United States:
Million Marches

Nov 2, 1997

In October of 1995, the Million Man March brought a vast assemblage of black men to Washington.

Now, in October of 1997, two more marches of the same type took place.

At the beginning of the month, there was the Promise Keepers March, whose organizers called on Christian men to make their pilgrimage to Washington.

Three weeks later, the Million Woman March unrolled, after preparations started by Phile Chionesu and several other community activists in Philadelphia.

In all three cases, there were of course the debates about numbers. Were there really a million people who came? The police gave one estimate, the media another, the organizers still another, with numbers ranging from 400,000 to two and a half million. But even the lowest estimates meant that a vast number of people did pour forth to come to these marches.

There were obvious differences between the three marches, based on those who called each march and those who came. The Million Man March was originally proposed by Ben Chavis, a long-time civil rights activist, and Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Behind them stood a vast number of organizations. The Promise Keepers March was organized by the fundamentalist Christian men's organization which calls itself the Promise Keepers, which has been called a "parachurch" organization. The Million Woman March, by all accounts, benefitted from less overt participation by existing organizations. Although its organizers were apparently inspired by the Million Man March, they turned down offers of assistance from its organizers.

The Million Man March was, of course, a gathering of black men, most of whom were workers, even if there was a sizeable representation of the black petty-bourgeoisie at the march. The Million Woman March seemed to reflect the same class breakdown, but it was composed of black women. The Promise Keepers March, which was in its large majority white, was also drawn from the working class and small businessmen or tradesmen, often from small towns.

But beyond the obvious differences, there were some important similarities.

On the one hand, all three were popular marches; those who came, for the most part, were not from the privileged layers of society.

On the other hand, in all three cases, those who organized the marches called, implicitly, on the people who assembled to accept this society of privilege, doing away with its "immorality" through personal responsibility.

Bill McCartney, the founder of the organization Promise Keepers, called for a "spiritual revival of America," and for "racial reconciliation," with the men who came to the march "connecting [with each other] in ways in which they have not connected before. ... I see the churches coming together. And I see jobs coming out of it. I see the poor being fed 'cause God's going deep into the hearts of these men."

As with the Million Man March of two years ago, emphasis was placed on men taking personal responsibility for the families, as a panacea addressing the problems of abandoned children, drug usage, crime, etc. Men were counseled to "lead" their families. "Don't apologize. Don't say you're sorry. Don't ask for permission. God tells you you are responsible to spiritually lead your family. And if you've not been leading your family spiritually, that is a spiritual failure," said one organizer of the march.

Typical of the comments from the multitudes who gathered was this: "We're here to pray for the nation and ourselves and our personal crimes."

The organizers of the Million Woman March called on black women to use the power of their numbers to help solidify family relationships and solve the problems that plague their communities, like drug use, alcoholism, and lack of personal responsibility. They encouraged the women at the march to abandon what the organizers called, "petty jealousies which have torn friends and communities apart." In an interview given before the march, Chionesu said, "We need to repent and understand that we need to 'fess up to things that we have done."

Typical of the comments coming from the Million Woman March was the comment made by a woman who had travelled from Detroit with friends to attend the march: "I think healing is the number one thrust that has jelled the women to say I want to be part of this, healing mentally, physically and spiritually." Another participant commented: "Hopefully, we all get along and aspire to do better and to make a statement to the world that we are united."

The organizers of these two marches, just like those who called the Million Man March two years ago, called on the people who attended to go back out into their community and do "good works," above all, by improving the relations within their own family.

In other words, the organizers of these marches preached all the reactionary values that we hear everyday from the most reactionary politicians – and from many an open racist.

The black men who went to Million Man March; the black women who went to Million Woman March; the men who went to the Promise Keepers March did not create the poverty that breeds drug usage, crime, racism and all the other social ills we confront today. Poverty and, with it, those evils are produced by capitalist society which requires exploitation of the vast majority of the population so that wealth can be reinforced in the hands of the class which controls this society.

The people that came to these marches certainly come from parts of the population that feel deeply there is something wrong today. But the organizers give them the worst kind of reactionary answers to their frustrations. They channel the feelings of frustration in a direction which asks the people to accept this society, in effect, to work to solidify it. Even if they pretend to be representatives of oppressed people (oppressed whether by racism, by poverty, by sexual discrimination), even if some of them claim to be "progressive," in reality they defend the views of the class that exploits all the oppressed people.

Most of the organizers of these marches pretend not to be political, only moral or religious leaders. But by channeling popular discontent in the way that they do, they serve a reactionary political purpose.