Thousands Attend Rally in Washington, Seeking Greater Power for African-Americans

New York Times/October 16, 2005
By Robert Pear and Holli Chmela

Washington -- Thousands of African-Americans thronged the Mall on Saturday and demanded action to overcome poverty, injustice, joblessness and the effects of substandard schools in black communities.

Speakers, led by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, embraced an agenda of self-help, celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March on Washington, demanded reparations for the descendants of black slaves and floated the idea of a new political party to increase the power of blacks and other minority groups.

Mr. Farrakhan urged the crowd to mobilize support for progressive social policies.

"The government will never do for the poor of this nation until and unless we organize effectively to make government respond to the needs of the poor," Mr. Farrakhan said in an 80-minute speech delivered from the west front of the United States Capitol. "We must go back home and organize as never before."

Mr. Farrakhan said the delayed relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina showed that poor people and blacks could not depend on the federal government.

"For five days," he said, "the government did not act. Lives were lost. We charge America with criminal neglect."

But Mr. Farrakhan's criticism of America and its leaders went much deeper.

"We want more than an apology for slavery," he said. "We want more than a monument. We want America to acknowledge her wickedness to the indigenous people of this hemisphere; acknowledge the wickedness of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade; acknowledge what you did in robbing our fathers of their names, their language, their culture, their religion."

Mr. Farrakhan denounced the domestic, economic and foreign policies of the Bush administration. "We need regime change in the United States," he said.

He accused President Bush of lying to the American people and "raping the Treasury" to pay for the war in Iraq, and he said the president had been deluded by "the neoconservative idea of an imperialist America."

But he caustically criticized Democrats as well.

"We need to think about a new political party," Mr. Farrakhan said. "The Democrats have used us and abused us. They look at the black and the brown and the poor like this is a plantation, and our Democratic leaders are like the house Negro on the plantation of Democratic politics."

Cries of "black power" echoed over the Mall as people congregated there on a balmy autumn day.

Some in the crowd said they were members of the Nation of Islam, but others said they simply supported Mr. Farrakhan's goals. In parts of the crowd, the atmosphere was like that of a family picnic, with people of all ages sitting on blankets.

Mr. Farrakhan calls his campaign to help the poor and the powerless the Millions More Movement.

With scant hope of help from white America, Mr. Farrakhan said, blacks must help themselves by establishing their own ministries of health and human services, agriculture, education, defense, justice, art and culture, trade and commerce, information and science and technology.

His message resonated with the crowd. Troy Harris, 34, a film student from Chico, Calif., said he was encouraged by the speeches.

"Minister Farrakhan has some wise words," Mr. Harris said. "It is time for us to build up our own services. It is time to organize our own processes. Because what's there hasn't worked."

Kyra Jones, 25, a special education teacher from Maryland, said she especially liked Mr. Farrakhan's message about establishing ministries to serve the community.

"Imagine if we had ministries during the hurricane and we didn't have to rely on the government," Ms. Jones said.

Peter Sengali, 44, of Chicago attended the march 10 years ago and brought his wife and two children to the event on Saturday.

"I wanted to show my children, my son especially, that black people, particularly men, can get together without violence," Mr. Sengali said. "I hope that they can take this message and bring it back to our community."

Mr. Farrakhan said his organization was forming a disaster relief fund, and he urged people to contribute one dollar a week.

In a wide-ranging speech, he combined fund-raising appeals with overtures to Africa, denunciations of pharmaceutical companies, criticism of the nation's schools and a harsh evaluation of wealthy whites, who he said were trying to preserve their privileged position in American society.

Other speakers included civil rights leaders, Hispanics, poor people, politicians, clergymen, professors, hip-hop musicians and American Indians.

The crowd also watched video presentations by Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban National Assembly, and Prime Minister P. J. Patterson of Jamaica.

Mr. Alarcón observed "a lot of misery and suffering" in the United States. Mr. Patterson said, "We stand in solidarity with the survivors of Katrina."

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