“Look for the enemies…”

We were talking today about the great American myth that it’s all about the individual, the self-made man who overcomes all obstacles and rises to prominence (perhaps thanks to his pliable bootstraps).

The powers that be pretend it has nothing to do with community, with helping each other out; it’s all – as the saying goes – about ‘pluck and luck.’ At the same time, I’ve been reading about the organizing done by A. Philip Randolph, “the leading black figure in the labor movement,” and came across the speech he gave at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August, 1963.

The way the story of the March on Washington usually is told, it’s all about one prominent individual, who had a dream. That myth again. Who knew anyone other than Martin Luther King, Jr., even spoke that afternoon? Which is too bad, because Randolph’s talk, ten quick paragraphs, was right to the point. And this part of it, 50+ years later, couldn’t be more topical: “Look for the enemies of Medicare, of higher minimum wages, of Social Security, of federal aid to education and there you will find the enemy of the Negro, the coalition of Dixiecrats and reactionary Republicans that seek to dominate the Congress.”

What’s needed, Randolph added, is “a new beginning not only for the Negro but for all Americans who thirst for freedom and a better life.”

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