Marching on Washington: Then and now

You’re at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August, 1963. In November, 1967, you’re on the Mall in Washington petitioning the government to end the war in Vietnam. You feel that by making yourself present in Washington and marching with a sign that cleverly describes your cause, you have the best answer for citizens to awaken a recalcitrant national leadership that it is time for a change. You expect that so long as there is a disconnect between the government and large segments of its population, people will continue to march in unison in D.C.


Fast forward to 2013. The unkempt grass on the Mall is growing with reckless abandon, because among other reasons, marches on DC are few and far between – oh, and yes, the government is shut down. But back on August 29, 2013, there was a “Second March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” and it actually attracted nearly as many people as the one in 1963. But other than that, the marches and demonstrations have been small and not significant enough to generate much in the way of mainstream media coverage.

Why is there so little citizen activeness in the twenty-first century? Reasons given include (1) that we petition our grievances by signing on-line petitions, (2) that the power of citizens has been largely usurped by the power of large corporations and other interest groups, (3) that most schools have curricula that do not relate to the here and now, and (4) that if we thought we saw apathy in the 1960s, we hadn’t seen anything yet. So what if a new movement of marches was somehow generated by those relatively few citizen activists who make up our populace. What would it look like?

Would it be a repeat of the ‘60s and ‘70s with the energy generated by some of our most established or progressive universities in the United States such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Michigan, Northwestern, Stanford, and University of California? It could be, but there is little sign that it will. So let’s take a little journey into the 2013 world of the facetious.

Suppose that there was an issue that really got under the skin of students at America’s largest university, the University of Phoenix. You might think that this is a university located singularly in Arizona with almost all students from the local area. You would be wrong. Rather, the University of Phoenix is the country’s largest for-profit school with an enrollment of over 600,000 students in 2010 (though there has been more than a 50% drop in enrollment since then because of “operational difficulties” including outrage against how students overpay to get undervalued diplomas).

The University of Phoenix as well as other for-profit colleges and universities have been accused of trying to be diploma mills that milk students and lenders (including the federal government) of huge sums of money. This has naturally led to considerable discontent on the part of students who in many cases were hood-winked into applying to and attending the University of Phoenix.

So imagine students from the for-profit universities taking their concerns to the streets. They might start off by saying “I got screwed” as they carry a sign saying the same. Perhaps they would broaden the cause beyond their individual selves to “justice at diploma mills.” Eventually they might take on the concerns of America’s large corporations that are being discriminated against because they have to do needless tasks such as ensuring safety in the workplace or the inspection of food for freshness.

The bottom line is if there was a serious progressive movement in the 1960s and 1970s, there is hardly one at all now. We don’t seem to light fires underneath thoughtful and active students who want to see global issues become front and center and America’s universities. But when it does happen, it may first happen with disappointed students from America’s for-profit schools.