My body is aching, my toes are purple-bruised, and my spirit is uplifted.
My determination is renewed by the courageous young people leading us in this March2Justice. Decades ago, students, mothers, grandfathers, labor and faith leaders marched the streets of Selma, sat-in at Greensboro lunch counters, and took Freedom Rides to Jackson in pursuit of equality.
Today, a new generation of leaders has emerged to continue that same struggle for dignity, walking 250 miles to deliver a “Justice Package” of legislative reforms to the nation’s capital, and to demand an end to the criminalization and killing of people of color.
Witnessing their deep, shared commitment to Kingian principles of love, non-violence, and respect for one another, I am struck by a realization that this group of marchers is the conscience of our time. They are the Diane Nash or the John Lewis of their generation. I can only imagine the impact that Carmen Perez will make in the years to come.
As we’ve learned all too well, the fight for civil rights and police accountability is not unique to Ferguson, MO, North Charleston, SC, or anywhere else—it is a struggle that unites cities, towns, and neighborhoods all across the United States. Our march has moved from the biggest city in the country through small Pennsylvania towns, and on each step of the way we’ve been greeted with love and encouragement by passersby of every color and age. Yet we’ve also endured taunts and words of hate, reminding us that our nation still has a long path ahead. Shouts of “white power” and “go home” rang our ears as pick-up trucks buzzed us on Maryland roads.
The conversations I’ve had with fellow marchers—many complete strangers until just a few days ago—have been some of the deepest I’ve ever had. The way we treat each other and the familial bonds that we feel towards one another as we undertake this journey together is incredible. We are reflecting love, respect, and welcoming of strangers – a light to the ignorance and hate we face.
This March2Justice is not about whether police are good or bad. We know that the vast majority of police officers serve our communities with a spirit of pride and respect. Rather, this is a moment when the youth are rising up to say that Black lives matter, young lives matter, police lives matter, every life matters.
Beyond their immediate demand of ending unchecked police killings, these young marchers are aware of the interconnectedness between this struggle and the broader movements for social and economic change. They have an understanding that we cannot hope to diminish violence without challenging the institutions that perpetuate poverty and bring desperation to our communities.
On April 15, we joined with tens of thousands of workers from around the country, in what was described as the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history, to lend our voices to the growing “Fight for $15” movement—demanding a national $15 living wage and the right for workers to form unions.
The young leaders of the March2Justice know that taking on complex issues of violence and juvenile justice requires more than just reforming the way police do their work. It is also about building strong communities where families have opportunities to thrive, where good jobs and healthcare are available to all, and where women and men have a voice at their places of work.
Indeed, millions of Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between ending racial oppression and stopping economic exploitation. If we want to solve any of our nation’s most pressing issues—police misconduct, mass incarceration, violence against women, failing schools, exploitation of immigrants, economic disparity, LGBTQ inequality—we have to take on the underlying systems of oppression that seek to divide us and inhibit our ability to organize together.
That is why it has been so moving to see the mutual support between workers, including the wonderful and inspiring caregivers of 1199SEIU, who I have the privilege to serve each day, and the marchers calling for an end to police violence. And many of us are blessed with family support from a distance – my husband caring for our kids so that I can march, and text messages or calls with encouragement along the way.
I am marching for the future of my son and my two daughters, their children and their children’s children. I know that change does not happen overnight and every generation will have their own moment when they are called to March2Justice. This is our moment to march, and I take inspiration from the great actress, poet, and playwright Ruby Dee who said, “I didn’t realize it until I was grown….how necessary it is for good people to be tough.”
So although our legs are weak and our bodies ache, we must be tough and remember why we march—for Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Sean Bell, and all the lives that have been lost to senseless violence.
– Milly Silva
Silva is an Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a union representing more than 400,000 healthcare workers. A Bronx native, she lives in Montclair, NJ, with her husband and three children.
Visit the March2Justice hub for extensive coverage here.