Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Santa Cruz NAACP Commemorates 50th Anniversary of March on Washington

On August 24, community members marched with the Santa Cruz NAACP to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington. The 1963 civil rights rally was also known as the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," and in Santa Cruz, those commemorating that day also broadly described their action for justice, calling it a march for, "voting rights, jobs, justice, freedom, and to end stand your ground." Speakers included Stephanie Milton who spoke out against stand your ground and other justifiable homicide laws, and Simba Kenyatta who spoke about how the City of Santa Cruz has never had a black city council member. Kenyatta proposed two local election reform measures: eliminating privately financed elections, and dividing up the voting population into districts.

Community members marched through downtown Santa Cruz singing classic civil rights era hymns. When gathering at the town clock, one individual was applauded when it was announced that he had been present at the 1963 March on Washington, and several in the crowd raised their hands when asked who had been fighting for civil rights causes for 50 years or more.

"We are celebrating 64 years here in Santa Cruz," said Deborah Hill-Alston, president of the Santa Cruz chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Hill-Alston said she has personally confirmed that the branch had their charter for 64 years.

"It is my wish that as NAACP President that we continue to march and we continue to stand up, speak up, show up when there is an injustice that effects not just our community, but the world," she said.

Simba Kenyattta, who Hill-Alston described as the chapter's first Vice-President, spoke about the need for election reform in the City of Santa Cruz.

"This is 2013, we still have never had a black city council person in Santa Cruz," he said. Kenyatta, a three time Santa Cruz City Council candidate, is one of the only three black city council candidates to run for office in the history of Santa Cruz.

Kenyatta said he was never able to raise the same amount of campaign donations as his opponents, adding, "What I saw was money talks. We know that."

Kenyatta proposed an end to privately financed elections for the city council, explaining that $7500 each for what normally amounts to 10 or so candidates would only cost the city of Santa Cruz $75,000.

"I think our rights are worth 75 grand," he said.

Kenyatta has also proposed dividing the City of Santa Cruz into separate electoral districts, saying that would assure at least one Latino person would be seated on the council.

About stand your ground, Santa Cruz NAACP member Stephanie Milton, who is also a member of the Santa Cruz County Women's Commission, said the law, "serves as nothing more than a modern way for people to create war against other people."

"The March on Washington was about civil rights, it was about justice, it was about jobs. It was about equity and access for all citizens regardless of ethnicity, of social economic status, and of location in the country," Milton said.

"50 years later, unfortunately we are fighting some of the same battles, just under a different guise."

Stand your ground laws have been enacted in 24 of the 50 states, but not in California. However, Milton pointed out that justifiable homicide laws in the state and excusable homicide laws are very similarly worded statutes.

"So while we are out here in Santa Cruz and we are really comfortable with the idea that we are going to protest stand your ground in other states, we have to be vigilant in California as well. The idea that we need to protect ourselves with extreme force is something that we need to eradicate nation wide," she said.

"There is no need for anyone to think they can walk around, permitted or not, with a fire arm, and that they can kill another person because they look suspicious."

"Stand your ground is an excuse to continue hatred," Milton stated.

The March on Washington was held on August 28, 1963, and was attended by a crowd estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 people, three quarters of whom were black. During the march, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream" speech, and the next year in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed by the federal government, followed by passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. 

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