After the Millions More March, What's Next?

The Millions More Movement march is over — now what? Ed Gordon explores the rally's impact with Newsweek magazine contributing editor Ellis Cose and Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm joined now by Newsweek magazine contributing editor Ellis Cose. He joins us from New York. And by Roland Martin, executive editor of the Chicago Defender. Roland has just returned to Chicago from Washington where he attended this weekend's mass rally.

I welcome you both.

Roland, let me start out with you. Give us a sense of what you felt on that day, and I don't mean by comparison to 10 years ago, but what you felt on the Mall that day.

Mr. ROLAND MARTIN (Executive Director, Chicago Defender): There was an incredible somber attitude in Washington, DC. It's soc--that was the biggest difference in terms of energy, in terms of the perspective. It really wasn't this sort of euphoric sort of experience. The question that I asked everyone, as I really didn't want to spend a lot of time reporting in the Chicago Defender in my column in TV 1 talking about, you know, `Well, how do you feel about this day?' The focus I wa--what's next? What's next? And when Farrakhan said, `The burden is on us to change America,' it really should have been the dream of any hard-core conservative because it was such a lift-yourself-by-the-bootstraps...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. MARTIN: ...self-help responsibility speech and attitude, not just from him, but many of the other speakers as well.

GORDON: Ellis Cose, I call you one of our Great Society watchers. You were there 10 years ago. You did not attend on Saturday. But one of the interesting points that I'd like you to speak on is when Minister Farrakhan suggests what's next, we did hear that 10 years ago and he himself has said that they faltered. Leadership has faltered in moving forward. Do you have hope that we will see a true mass movement in terms of galvanizing these disparate groups to move the black community forward?

Mr. ELLIS COSE (Contributing Editor, Newsweek): Well, I think one thing that we realized out of the event 10 years ago, Ed, was that a mass rally is great as a way to get people energized temporarily and some things come out of it. But a mass rally does not put together the framework for a continuing kind of infrastructure that will bolster and sustain the black community. And I don't think that's going to come out of the second march either, despite the rhetoric. I think it was a great thing to have, and I did watch it on C-SPAN. I've been traveling for Ford for the last four weeks and decided to spend this weekend at home with my family. But I--even though Minister Farrakhan spoke at length about the need for various ministries, spoke at length about the need to do something beyond the day--and I think there will be some things that happen beyond the day--many people will be inspired. But I think--will it cause a fundamental shift in some of the problematic trends that we have seen when it comes to black America? I don't think so.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, Ed, one of the things that...

GORDON: Well...

Mr. MARTIN: ...I said specifically directly to Minister Farrakhan three weeks ago was the need to create small successes in order to show there has been positive movement. The first thing that he mentioned at the end of his speech that they're trying to do is to create a $5 million disaster relief fund related to Hurricane Katrina. And so, they have to hit that target, hit that goal, because the skeptics and the cynics are saying, `Well, are you going to do it? We don't know if you're going to be able to do it.' And so I said if you do the small successes, if you say we're going to register 500,000 bla--African-Americans or two million folks before the midterm elections, that's one. If it's five million for the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, that's another. But they have to create the successes in order to get folks to say, `See, we said we were going to do this. We did it. Now we're moving to the next problem.'

GORDON: Yeah, Ellis, one of the things that people en masse want to often see is some type of national movement vs. small local successes. Do you believe that there's going to have to be a national report card on black leadership coming out of this?

Mr. COSE: I don't think there will be, and I think it's probably not a bad thing that there won't be. I do agree that there need to be small successes. I mean, I was at a meeting a week ago with the 20th Century Fund, Marc Morial of the Urban League and others, who were focusing on the question of what to do about black men in the society. And one of the attendees there said, you know, `This is my Million Man March. I want to make my contribution here.' There's a meeting in New York today of something called the Black Equity Alliance, which is a coalition of New Yorkers who are trying to put together plans to rebuild the Gulf region. And I think these kinds of things will happen.

I think it's a bit grandiose to think on the national scale they're going to be a handful of leaders who are going to coalesce all of this energy and make something really big happen. I think it's great that they can energize people, but at the end of the day Minister Farrakhan is a preacher. He is not an expert on economic development and is not going to put together the economic redevelopment of this country or even of this set of people.

Mr. MARTIN: And aid of...

GORDON: Roland, did you get the sense...

Mr. MARTIN: Go ahead.

GORDON: ....in leaving on Saturday that--and there were, we should note, many, many, quote, "leaders in the black community" who attended this event. Did you get the sense that they would be able to pool resources and move, if it be poverty, on one issue?

Mr. MARTIN: Possibly. It all is based upon, obviously, what the agenda is. But I have to use a military analogy and that is this: You can have the greatest general draw up the greatest plan in order to take over a country and win a war, but if you do not have well-trained troops, if you do not have dedicated and focused troops, you will not win. And so, the troops can drive this as opposed to the general. And so, we heard a plan, we heard a vision, but just like when Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in Jerusalem in the Bible, the people had to say, `Let's rebuild,' not just the leader.

GORDON: All right. And Ellis, with literally 30 seconds, one of the interesting points that you bring up is the idea, though, that this kind of movement can be used as a spark. One would hope that will be the case.

Mr. COSE: Oh, I certainly hope so, and I think it is useful. I just think that the very idea that these ministries of trade, of justice, of information, are going to actually come into existence and solve any real problems is probably way, way optimistic. But I think it's great that the people were able to come together and have a great day and get energized.

GORDON: All right. Essayist Ellis Cose is a contributing editor at Newsweek magazine, and Roland Martin is executive editor of the Chicago Defender. I thank you both for joining us. Appreciate it.

Mr. COSE: My pleasure.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks, Ed.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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