• Sat. May 8th, 2021


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March on Washington 2020: Protesters Hope to Rekindle Spirit of 1963

WASHINGTON — Fifty-seven years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. galvanized the civil rights movement by outlining a dream of racial equality from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a new group of advocates for racial justice will return to the same spot on Friday hoping to rekindle some of that passion.

This time, the speakers will address the crowd from an area marked off in grids occupied by small knots of attendees, to limit physical contact and the spread of disease during the coronavirus pandemic. The same will be true around the reflecting pool on the National Mall, where protesters will gather on what is expected to be a blistering-hot day.

Dr. King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew an audience of a quarter-million. The Friday protest, called the Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks, is expected to attract a small fraction of that, in part because the city is requiring quarantines for visitors from 27 states. Attendees will be required to practice social distancing, wear masks and be screened for fever, and hand-sanitizing stations will be ubiquitous.

A permit issued by the city on Tuesday indicated that 50,000 people could attend the protest, but organizers say the actual number remains unclear.

Those organizers, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. King’s oldest son, Martin Luther King III, say it would be a mistake to judge the event’s success by the size of its crowd.

“I’m confident that but for Covid we would have had a million people,” said Marc Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who is president of the National Urban League, a sponsor of the march. “We will have, however, millions virtually, and millions tuning in on TV, and millions online.”

The march “has to be understood as a moment for which these protests must lead to something,” he added. “So it must lead to significant policy change. Structural racism is not addressed with talk or good will alone.”

Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

While the protest will commemorate the 1963 march and Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” address, its larger purpose is to rally African-Americans and others on behalf of concrete goals. They range from increasing voter registration and participation in the 2020 census to enacting a new version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, said Tylik McMillan, the national director of youth and college at the National Action Network, which Mr. Sharpton founded in 1991.

A major goal, he said, is to push for passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, backed by House Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus, which would overhaul law-enforcement training and conduct rules to limit police misconduct and racial bias.

The killing of Mr. Floyd by the Minneapolis police in May and the national upheaval it provoked loom large over the march, as does the sense among civil rights leaders that action this year could set the course of American race relations for years, if not decades. Protests have continued this week in Kenosha, Wis., after a white police officer shot a Black man in the back several times.

“We can’t ignore the moment that we’re in,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which also is sponsoring the protest. “This is a march that is very much needed right now, given the fires that are raging as we deal with police violence, racial violence and voter suppression. It’s created almost a perfect storm.”

Among the speakers at the event are Ms. Clarke and Mr. Morial, as well as family members representing Mr. Floyd; Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician killed in March in a raid by police officers in Louisville, Ky.; and Eric Garner, who died after being held in a chokehold by the police in New York City in 2014. The speeches, which begin at 11 a.m. Eastern, will be followed by a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Mall.

The event will be livestreamed by the N.A.A.C.P., another sponsor, and covered on cable by BET. It also will be accompanied by a so-called virtual march conducted online.