On January 19, 2015, MLK Day, over 50 demonstrations took place around the country to “Reclaim MLK.” I found myself at Love Park in Philadelphia, proudly wearing my jumbo-sized “Decarcerate PA” button, as I stood with the Decarcerate PA (DPA) contingent for the “MLK Day of Action, Resistance & Empowerment March.” DPA was one of roughly 70 organizations involved in the wide coalition, and feeder marches from around the city converged at the Philadelphia school district headquarters building. I felt obligated to march with DPA because of my previous actions with them. In the summer of 2013, I took part in the group’s 10-day march from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, urging for funds to be invested in schools and social programs, not prisons.
Around 1:00 the DPA feeder march launched from Love Park with nearly 150 persons, along with another 150 cops on bikes wearing bright yellow attire. Chanting “Down with the jail-house, up with the school-house,” we arrived at the Philadelphia school district headquarters building on 440 N Broad Street, where at least 2,5000 persons stood listening to speeches. It was moving to see such a large amount of people there. On December 18, I performed a die-in there on the steps with over 200 high school students, demanding an end to budget cuts for public schools. Now, with several thousand people, we not only blocked off the steps of the building, but blocked off the street as well. The wide coalition demanded fully funded and locally controlled schools, decent jobs and a $15 minimum wage, and justice for black lives through an end to stop-and-frisk tactics.
After speeches were made by community leaders and parents of black victims, we marched for nearly an hour to the final rally at Independence Hall. Leaders of the event estimated 7,000 persons took part in the march, while police claimed only 2,000, but it was certainly the largest protest I’ve ever attended in Philadelphia. Activists from every progressive movement made an appearance. At different times I found myself marching with DPA, $15 NOW, marijuana activists, someone carrying a gay liberation flag, a man dressed as Jesus Christ, and OG Law carrying a six-foot banner that preached Love over Hate. People of all ages were present as well, including children under the age of 5, and elderly persons in wheelchairs. Despite the diversity of the crowd, most people there supported the new Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the march I heard the often repeated chants: “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
The final rally was held in the grass at Independence Hall. Musicians remained in the street, while the final speeches were made by members of Philadelphia Student Union, People United for Real Power (PURP), POWER, and the mother of Philadelphia black victim Brandon Tate Brown, who I first heard speak at the “I Want To Live” march and rally at the same location on December 28. Many speeches outlined what King described as being the “Triple Evils” of our society: poverty, racism, and militarism. The demonstration attacked these “Triple Evils,” making the organizers extremely successful in their goal to “Reclaim MLK.”
The rally was widely reported on by city newspapers. This was due to the large coalition that was formed to carry out the ideals of Martin Luther King. Without such a large coalition, the demonstration could have been ignored or blocked out by state-sponsored events. Large coalitions must continue to be a goal for activists because no single group can organize such a massive rally alone. Groups should still work on their own terms for their own projects. As a marijuana activist, I organize demonstrations that include civil disobedience. I will continue these because I believe they are very effective, but I am willing to work with a large coalition for certain projects that would not involve civil disobedience. All progressive groups should take this approach. We should learn from King, who worked with pacifists, clergy members, various civil rights groups, Indians, unions, and poor people of all races.