‘Getting to the Bottom of It’: Grasping the March on Washington after months of protests

On this week’s episode of “Getting to the Bottom of It,” podcast host Alec Rich speaks with College Democrats Deputy Director of Graduate Student Affairs Dagoberto De Jesus Acevedo and assistant video editor Dante Schulz about the annual March on Washington. He also hears from Black Student Union Executive Vice President Peyton Wilson, who provided a written statement on her experience at the demonstration.

“Getting to the Bottom of It” is hosted by Alec Rich. This podcast is produced by Gwyn Wheeler. Music is produced by Aulx Studio. Special thanks to Dagoberto De Jesus Acevedo, Dante Schulz and Peyton Wilson

Transcription:

Yolanda Renee King:

We stand and march for love and we will fulfill my grandfather’s dream.

Alec:

That was 12 year old Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., addressing a crowd of thousands just blocks from campus on Friday on the National Mall. It’s been 57 years since MLK’s historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which culminated in his famed I have a dream speech. But the progress made since Dr. King’s speech has also been met by a continued struggle in the fight against racism and racial inequity in America, something the last several months have keenly demonstrated whether it relates to continued police brutality against Black communities or disparities in COVID-19 death rates. This time around, Friday’s civil rights rally was dubbed the “Get your knee off our necks commitment march,” which was organized by Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III through the National Action Network. From the GW Hatchet, this is Alec Rich, and you’re listening to the Hatchet’s weekly news podcast, “Getting to the Bottom of it.” After months of protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, the March on Friday followed another shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23. Members of Blake’s family, along with families of other victims of police brutality like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner were also among those at the March. Reflecting on her experience at the March in a written statement provided to the Hatchet, GW Black Student Union Executive Vice President Peyton Wilson had this to say in part. “To have been blessed with the opportunity to be in DC and participate in the March On Washington is something I still can’t wrap my head around. I’ve always wondered what it was like when I heard stories about the 1960s from my parents and grandparents and to have been there experiencing the same thing is incredible. However, it brings a sort of aftertaste of frustration because here we are, two generations later, still fighting for the bare minimum. Still fighting for real, holistic freedom; not just political freedoms. I can’t stop thinking about George Floyd’s brother speaking. He was very emotional and was having a hard time even getting out a sentence. He kept going “I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so overwhelmed.” At that moment I realized this is a regular guy. This man had a normal life and a normal job, and now he’s in Washington D.C. speaking in front of thousands of people just months after he tragically lost his brother. He hasn’t even been able to fully grieve. All because this country doesn’t value Black life.” For others in attendance on Friday, including Dagoberto Acevedo, deputy director of graduate student affairs for GW Democrats, he said the day was a moving experience in an interview over the weekend.

Alec:

Was there a central theme or message from the day that you think anyone watching or those in attendance should have taken away?

Dagoberto:

Yeah, I think ironically enough, with the census coming up, one of the core messages that many of the speakers had was do the census because this is how the federal government provides resources to you all as a constituency. But the largest message that we had was to assure that you are registered to vote and to check your registration. I feel like that is the common theme that many of the speakers had from the young activists speakers to congressional leaders. It’s the fact that you can do all the advocacy and activism you can do on your end, but of course the biggest power and the biggest tool we have is the right to vote. And that is what will keep propelling this, social movement forward. It’s the fact that we are going to keep this momentum and shift this dynamic change that needs to happen at the polling station.

Alec:

Yeah and you mentioned the families of some of the victims. Did any of their remarks stand out in particular?

Dagoberto:

Yes. I would say a lot of the remarks stood out to me from congressional remarks, like, Congresswoman Presley. But to me, one that stood out the most was the father of Jacob Blake and I think that stood out to me the most because even though this was so recent to him and to his family and of course to the nation, he was still very optimistic. But also the mother of Breonna Taylor as well, because it’s been nearly more than 160 days since she passed away from police officers doing a no knock search warrant.

Alec:

How do you think an org like dems can also work with the Black community and other Black orgs to fight institutional racism and discrimination on campus?

Dagoberto:

Yeah so that’s a great question. So in the DMV area alone, just cause I personally started my own organization to fight for racial equity this past summer. There are nearly 120 organizations in the DMV region that are advocating for racial equity to, you know, voting, the census, etc.I think college Dems being in the location it is will use that to of course it’s an advantage, cause one, we can easily connect and mobilize alongside these other organizations in our effort, even nonprofits and companies to keep educating undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students and ensuring that they’re playing their parts. Luckily we also already have like large connections with other organizations across the board. But even with us being very close to congressional office, at least something that I’m doing in my committee is getting more congressional speakers to talk to us, working alongside individuals that actually study the specific field of racial equity. Because of course there’s so much information and outlets out there right now in the US that having something so close to us and resonate to us will be very impactful at the end.

Alec:

Lastly going back to the March, I know people saw pictures if they weren’t there in person, but I mean, could you just talk about the scale of how many people were there? Not only for the speeches, but for the March as well.

Dagoberto:

Yeah. So my group actually got in line at six in the morning. We had a pretty early day, um, even by 6:00 AM when we got there, the line was already a couple blocks down the road. Once they started letting people in and getting for temperature checks the line was merely at Georgetown. And so that should say volumes of the amount of people that actually even traveled from other states to come to this. Cause at the end of it just wasn’t Washingtonian server Virginians or Marylanders. My group connected with people that were from like Delaware or part of the Midwest or even Southern States. This was by far the largest turnout I’ve witnessed personally. It felt really moving to see one, even though we’re fighting a pandemic, it felt really moving to see the amount of individuals that were very, very close to Lincoln so much so that so many had to get on the reflecting pool, for space measurements that at the end, it was just very inspiring to see, I would say nearly more than 5,000 individuals out there.

Alec:

Dagoberto, thanks so much. So Dagoberto mentioned temperature checks and that’s something that can be easy to forget that the March took place amidst the pandemic that we’re all still facing. And that was something mentioned by Peyton Wilson of the Black Student Union in part of her reflection, which reads “It was an incredible day but it was almost strange because the pandemic felt like the background to everything going on. People were following CDC guidelines and wearing masks of course, but we were there fighting for our lives like we have been for centuries so in my brain I’m like “Eh might as well just add a pandemic into the mix sure why not!” And even with that we’re still dying the most. I’m grateful to have been there but I’m also thinking forward to the future when these marches are no longer necessary.” We had several reporters and photographers on scene, including assistant video editor, Dante Schulz who described the tone of the day as somber. Dante, thanks for joining me.

Dante:

Yep, of course.

Alec:

First, I just want to separate you being there as a reporter with the Hatchet and you know, we’re so circled back to that in a second, but I just wanted to get your overall view and impression of the day as an observer.

Dante:

So, the March on Washington definitely, the vibe was very somber. I would describe it more kind of like a Memorial and a call to action, more than a protest, so there was a list of speakers. They spoke on a wide range of issues, particularly intersectionality within the black community. There were members of the black community, who were also members of the LGBTQ plus community who are disabled who were calling for people to vote. There were also members of the Latinx community who were acknowledging the Afro Latinx population within their communities. And then there were also the family members of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd they also spoke as well as the family members of Martin Luther King also spoke. So it was definitely a very somber event.

Alec:

And, you know, that might be intertwined in terms of your role with the Hatchet, but just kind of take me through what stood out to you among those different things over the course of the day,

Dante:

Over the course of the day, what stood out to me the most was the emotion of the people in the crowd, especially when it was the family members of those who were killed, due to police brutality. So especially when the brother George Floyd spoke, he was just overcome with emotion. It was just hard for him to speak, which is totally understandable, but a lot of the people in the crowd also felt his pain. There was a lot of emotion with the crowd too as well. When he was having trouble speaking, there were lots of words of encouragement, being shouted, yeah, that, that stood out to me the most.

Alec:

I think through people saw through pictures on social media, for people that weren’t there, you can definitely see how many thousands of people, but just in terms of being on the ground there, what was it like just in terms of the scale of everyone there?

Dante:

There were areas where people could stand along the reflecting pool to get a direct view of the speakers on the Lincoln. And when I showed up at 11, the line to get in wrapped around, I think it was from 17th street. It was all the way down Constitution Avenue towards 23rd. When the March started at 2:30 you definitely could see the scale of how many people had actually showed up because I was under the trees. I was kind of shielded, so I could see that there were a lot of people, but that didn’t actually register until the March started. I had walked onto the reflecting pool and I looked ahead at me and there were thousands of people and I looked behind me and there were also thousands of people stretching all the way back to the Washington monument and then all the way past towards the MLK Memorial. So there were definitely a lot more people than I had expected there.

Alec:

And then, I mean, I guess lastly, just in terms of maybe just a kind of summary of your overall experience and your feeling of whether it’s a sense of unity or just in terms of more so of a call to action, and what was your overall sense from today?

Dante:

I think today was definitely a call to action and a show of unison. The speakers definitely were calling to action. They were calling for everyone to hold their officials accountable, calling for everyone to go out and vote calling for everyone to demand change. But also they emphasize unity. And I feel like the people at the March definitely could feel the unity, especially with the chants. Everyone felt together at least when they were chanting. People were responding to each other’s emotions when we were in the crowd, they were responding to each other’s calls, responding to each other’s chants. I think it was just a really important historical moment for the U S just to see how big the movement has grown and kind of see how much still needs to be done through what the speakers have said.

Alec:

Dante, thank you. I appreciate it.

Dante:

Yeah, of course.

Alec:

That’s it for this week. Thank you to Peyton, Dagoberto and Dante for your contributions to this episode. Getting to the Bottom of It is hosted by Alec Rich is produced by Gwyn Wheeler.

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