By David Mark Greaves
Parking had been cleared and the metal barricades stretched almost a mile, from Franklin Avenue to Marcus Garvey Boulevard. The police had set up their command post in the usual spot, the eastside of St. Andrew’s Place at Herkimer Street and were discretely deployed around the area.
By 12:30pm. the crowd had grown to about 300 people who got to hear the man who plans to be the next mayor, Councilman Charles Barron, give a speech that several hundred thousand should have heard. He spoke about how it is time for the majority of people in New York to step up and take the power of the mayoralty and have an educator, Adelaide Sanford, as schools chancellor and institute changes in the school curriculum that would benefit black children. He spoke of the city budget and how those billions of dollars in contracts were going to businesses outside the black community.
That only several hundred people were present was unsettling and we spoke with Malik Zulu Shabazz is the leader of the New Black Panther Party as well as an attorney. Mr. Shabazz was the convener of the Million Youth March. We asked him about the low turnout.
Malik Zulu Shabazz: I would say that first of all, we are not disappointed in the turnout. Several thousand is not bad turnout. Actually if you read this week’s Final Call newspaper, it pretty much gives an accurate description as to what happened at the Million Youth March. Second, we understand that with the police attack on the march in 1998, and the killing at the Caribbean Day Parade, there was a heavy fear factor and specter of violence surrounding the March.
We proceeded anyway because we have to continue to go after our youth. We won’t change anything because what the people saw on September 6th, represented what the March is all about. Young rappers, entertainers, speakers and leaders intermixed with elder revolutionaries and activists from across the country who gave critical information on history, politics, political prisoners as well as Hip Hop lyrics.
OTP: The barricades had stretched for so long it gave the impression that there was a huge crowd expected.
MZS: Well let me say this, when you do the right advertising, which we did, when you have the right message, which we do, and you have the right program for the people, you expect the people to turn out. Now if in fact this young generation is apathetic and even their parents and that generation are apathetic, then that’s something we’ll have to study. We always have high hopes for the masses.
We put a good program out there for the people and we organized in a good fashion. It’s not that marching is wrong, it’s not that our program is wrong, we’re dealing in a climate of heavy apathy. To be honest, most Black youth today are not really interested in activism, they’re more interested in rap records, girls, parties and clothes.
OTP: How can the school system change or be more instructive in terms of building independent and creative thinking people?
MZS: Right now the public school system all over this country has a tight grip on our youth. They are not being told the truth, they are not being stimulated, they are certainly not being led in the direction of political empowerment for black people. They are not being fed in the schools and they are not being fed at home and therefore you have a generation here that is really in a vacuum and is not tapping its potential to help our people.
So we already know that in dealing with a youth march, you’re dealing with a hard battle to start with. It’s not like you have grown men and women who are experienced in struggle. You have youth who really know nothing about it and may not even understand what police brutality presently and historically means. The hardest job is working among black youth and the hardest march to put on is a youth march. The public should give us a chance and see what kind of program we have and see what kind of follow-up we are going to be engaged in because we are going to continue to be active and they will see that this is something worthy to push the youth in the direction of.”
We also spoke with two organizers who regularly work with young people in the area to get their thoughts on what had happened. One felt that the question the organizers should ask themselves is “What are we going to do that will be most effective?” She thought the organizers of the March were very positive, but noting that the attendance at the March has fallen steadily for three years, she suggests that “It’s time to take a look at what’s not working and fix it.”
“The Million Man March cannot be duplicated. It stands alone and marches don’t have the same impact. We have to move beyond that and create coalitions that speak directly to the needs of young people.”
“Let’s see something new. Middle-age men have a difficulty with recognizing the leadership abilities that young women can bring to the Movement. It’s time for them to get over that.”
She also felt that the MYM organizers have to put young people in obvious leadership of the March. “Youth was in the title but not on the dias. They need to build, organize and reach out more effectively,” this young organizer concluded.
Another youth organizer works with young people around issues such as housing and prisons. He said that while he saw posters placed around the area, “if they were serious about outreach they would have taken additional steps and partnered with a variety of groups to insure a base attendance of at least 1,000 people.” Saying that this was a symbolic event, he added that “Organizing should be done so that there is some gain, some action, a specific target so that people get something tangible.” “Marching is good with a purpose and agenda, but you’re not going to get a big turnout if it’s only about adults lecturing young people. Kids won’t come to that.”