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150.000 marchers say 'Listen up, America' Save Our Cities, Save Our Children.

Stretching 17 city blocks, more than 150,000 citizens of the nation's cities and towns, led by their mayors, marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. on May 16, 1992 to promote the "Save Our Cities, Save Our Children" march on Washington.

To continue bringing national attention to the plight of cities, marchers held a rally at the Constitution Avenue entrance to the Washington Monument where they were addressed by mayors, members of Congress, human rights advocates and other dignitaries.

The day kicked off with a pre-march rally at Senate Park across from the U.S. Capitol where march organizers and early arrivers waited for the anticipated bus loads of people from across the country, including 500 buses from New York City. NLC Second Vice President Sharpe James, mayor of Newark traveled by bus in the mix of buses carrying 10,000 citizens from New Jersey. Thousands from New Jersey carried banners and wore emblazoned T-shirts to join their mayors including East Orange, N.J. Mayor Cardell Cooper, and Trenton, N.J. Mayor Douglas Palmer.

NLC Executive Director Don Borut and mayor from as far as Puerto Rico led the march down Connecticut Avenue, holding a banner proclaiming the march's theme.

New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson received hometown cheers from the crowd as some of the first mayoral speakers. The mayors vowed to continue with efforts to improve federal spending on domestic issues and to move America forward in making racial and economic changes.

The week of march, several mayors met with House of Representative leaders, including Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, to begin mapping out a federal strategy for cities. The group vowed to hold a follow-up meeting soon to cement the strategy.

The idea for a march was proposed by former Newsweek Editor Osborn Elliott in a Newsweek column he wrote in early 1991 focusing on the needs of America's cities. Elliott, who chairs the Citizens Committee for New York City, was later joined in the planning by Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn representing the U.S. Conference of Mayors as well as other national organizations including the National League of Cities.

Save Our Children, Save Our Cities offices began holding meetings around the country to organize the march at the grassroots level, with offices in New York and Washington taking the lead. Before the Rodney King beating trial verdict and the L.A. riots that followed, support for the march was optimistic.

However, the shock that swept the nation after the verdict, encouraged a last minute increase in support for the march. March organizers, whose efforts resulted in a wealth of media attention the week of the march, attribute much of the event's successful turnout to the wake up call America received after the King verdict.

"I thought (the march) was fantastic. It went beyond my wildest dreams," said Elliott. "There were people present from all walks of life, credence, color, race, and economic level. The march totally represented urban America."

Beyond the usual logistical problems of organizing an event that size, Elliott said he was disappointed with the lack of leadership and representation from the U.S. Senate. In addition, Elliott called the New York Times "terribly irresponsible" for "choosing to rely on the politically motivated low estimate provided by the U.S. Park Police of 35,000 (marchers)." Elliott estimates as many as 250,000 marchers attended the event. Estimates varied, however, the Park Police estimate is less than one third the count of 150,000 announced by the D.C. police.

Civil rights leaders like Southern Christian Leadership Conference Director Rev. Joseph Lowery and National Rainbow Coalition, Inc. President Jesse Jackson attended the day-long activities and helped stir up the crowd's enthusiasm.

"I hope we will impress the nation as a whole. What's really at stake is the nation's soul. We have to put in place a new set of priorities in our cities. Cities are people. Cities are children. We are choosing a definition between life and death," said Lowery.

"We need perestroika--the restructing of our economic priorities. We need glasnost--openness. Lack of openness led to the corruption and secrey that created the S&L and banking scandals, for which our children will be paying far into the 21st century," said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Jackson's poetic speech of market share and social and economic facts raised cheering and shouting from the crowd of children, teenagers, working class, elderly and disabled into the repetition of "keep hope alive."

Detroit Democrat Rep. John Conyers promised to keep up the congressional fight to use defense savings on domestic programs. "I'm going to bring the (fire) wall bill back. We're going to bring those walls down by all means necessary. We want jobs, justice and peace," Conyers told the crowd.

Responding to a consensus of agreement, Conyers continued. "We know there are a lot of Los Angeles just a step away from having a match struck. If the Berlin wall can come down, the budget walls can come down."

After the march, Elliott said "we have to keep up the pressure. If necessary we will have another march, this time with a million people."

"Listen up, America," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) from Los Angeles told the marchers in a moving and personal speech. "If justice doesn't come, the burning will continue."
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Author:Baker, Denise
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 25, 1992
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