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Activists Honor 1963 March On Washington, Urge Citizens To Vote


Two Washington, D.C.s on display this week - Thursday, President Trump at the White House with flags and fireworks to accept his party's nomination for another four years; Friday, thousands of marchers gathered on the National Mall for one of the largest demonstrations since the beginning of the pandemic. The Get Your Knee Off Our Necks march happened on the same date, August 28, as 1963's March on Washington, when Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, I have a dream. This year, activists called for getting out the vote this November.

NPR's Juana Summers witnessed the march and spoke to participants and joins us now. Juana, thanks for being with us.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey there. Good morning.

SIMON: What did you see?

SUMMERS: Yes, so there were thousands of protesters who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to call for racial justice and an overhaul of the country's criminal justice system. This was a really big crowd and also a really diverse crowd. And there were a number of speakers, including union leaders, politicians, civil rights leaders. But they also heard some powerful words from a number of family members of Black people who'd been hurt or killed in cases that have caught public attention.

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And we should note that this event had been coming together for some months now, but many people that I spoke to did mention Jacob Blake, another name on a list of names that they say is just far too long.

SIMON: We've seen activism in the streets all around the country this summer, and violence in a few cities. And there, I guess, was a lot of talk about what this all may mean come November. What was the sense at the march yesterday, which was peaceful?

SUMMERS: Yeah, so something striking to me was the urgency that I heard from people around voting. As I was actually walking around, there were volunteers it seemed like at every corner actually registering people to vote.

I want to introduce you to one person I met. Her name is Stephanie Lyon. And when the 1963 march happened, she was only 11 years old, and her mom told her she was too young to go, so she couldn't go and felt like she had to be there. And the other thing that she was very insistent about was how she planned to vote.

STEPHANIE LYON: I think that mail-in voting gives me some suspect, some apprehension in doing so. But standing in line shows that I'm really going to support the voting process, and I think that it's going to be clean, legal and straightforward.

SUMMERS: And this topic kept coming up. We also talked with Ky Marshall, who lives in Jacksonville, about it.

KY MARSHALL: So as soon as early voting opens in Florida, that's when I go. Like, I don't wait for the day of. I go a month before so the lines are lower - or smaller, and so I can get in and out. But I still participate in the process.

SIMON: Juana, of course, these activists were marching and gathering not far from the White House, where just this week, President Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president.

SUMMERS: Yeah. And if you remember in that speech, President Trump talked about gatherings like this. He described the people participating as agitators, who he said wanted to destroy the American way of life. A lot of people who gathered heard that speech and had a lot of strong words for the president.

Almost everyone I talked to said that they plan to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidates, though there were certainly different degrees of enthusiasm.

Akina Newbraugh (ph) is 24, and I spoke to her about the Democratic presidential nominee and whether she thought that young people like herself would vote in November or whether a lack of enthusiasm for the ticket might keep them home.

AKINA NEWBRAUGH: They understand what's going on, and they understand that whether you love Biden or not, you got to vote for him because we can't have four more years of Trump.

SUMMERS: Newbraugh said that it did not matter whether Biden and Harris were a perfect fit. She said she was more worried about the future of the country and what it would look like if President Trump does win another four years.

SIMON: NPR's Juana Summers, thanks so much.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.