Joe Biden is the water, not the tide

A dispatch from the March on Washington, plus: inspirational deeds from Mark Zuckerberg and Kathryn Murdoch

Illustration: Natalie Johnson for The.Ink

Welcome back to The.Ink, a newsletter by me, Anand Giridharadas, about politics and culture, money and power.

Before we dive in, welcome to all of our new subscribers! You can read about why I started The.Ink here. And a big shout-out to David Leonhardt for giving us a generous mention in The New York Times this week. His “Morning Newsletter” has a strong food game that rivals our own, like recommendations for roasted tomato and pesto calzones. You should subscribe to it.

If you’re not familiar with The New York Times, it’s similar to The.Ink but old.

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Now, for this late-in-the-week mini-post, we have something special for you — a dispatch from the recent March on Washington by Natalie Johnson, a talented young journalist and illustrator who is a reporter-researcher for The.Ink and does a lot of the lifting to bring it to your inbox every week.

But first: I’m feeling so inspired right now, and I want to share my inspiration with you. Because this was the week when I learned that Mark Zuckerberg will be donating $300 million to helping to secure the U.S. election in November.

It is one thing to donate to solve a problem you have absolutely no prior involvement with. But to solve a problem you are still busily working to cause — through the enabling of disinformation and racial hatred — is a special kind of heroism, and I salute Zuck.

I hadn’t even come down from my inspiration high when I heard about Kathryn Murdoch — of that Murdoch family — doing the same thing. According to a recent Washington Post headline, “Kathryn Murdoch wants to reform the way we elect politicians.” Ooooh, good, that’s nice. How, exactly?

She wants, we learn from a Karen Tumulty column that sounds like it was written from inside a very comfortable hostage dungeon, more “compromise and bipartisanship”; this Murdoch daughter-in-law is intent on “reforming a system that currently fosters polarization and rewards those who hew to the extremes.”

This is so, so moving to me. I mean, it’s one thing for a random person to support this noble cause. But from someone who continues to benefit from the active destruction of American democracy by the Fox News empire, this is especially stirring stuff.

Now, I have long argued that arsonists should not, in fact, be welcomed as firefighters. But I’m starting to wonder if I’m wrong about that. After all, you know who knows a lot about fire?

And so my inspirational challenge to all of you this week: Find an issue where you can make a difference. Then think about how you, too, can make that problem worse on an epically greater scale than your good deed.

Joe Biden is the water, not the tide

A dispatch from the March on Washington

By Natalie Johnson

On the morning of last week’s March on Washington, I met Joe at the World War II Memorial. It was 9:00 a.m, and we were both already drenched in sweat. He needed assistance to walk, even to stand. But Joe, whom I took to be in his sixties, was undeterred. Each time I began to think my 24-year-old body would not last the day, Joe’s example encouraged me. He must have known Sister Pollard’s words, as channeled by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965: “Our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.” 

Fifty-seven years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Joe and thousands of demonstrators formed a great tide crashing onto the Lincoln Memorial. After a summer of upheaval and trauma, the demand was simple and stark: “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.”

The impending election filled the air. Volunteers stopped Joe and me in line to make sure we were registered to vote and knew the deadlines. Nearby demonstrators carried six-foot banners reading “March on the Polls” with QR codes to register people on the spot. Flags of Black liberation, with the add-on of “Vote Early,” fluttered above the human sea. My own T-shirt gave the revolutionary cry of this year — of these years — an urgent electoral twist: “Black Votes Matter.”

The focus of these voting pleas was Donald Trump. Speaking to demonstrators, Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, warned that Trump’s presidency threatens to turn his father’s dream into a permanent nightmare. “We need you to vote as if your lives, our livelihoods, our liberties depend on it. Because they do,” he told the crowd. 

It had been less than 24 hours since Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination not far away, on the South Lawn of the White House, as if in a dry run for future lawbreaking. It marked the end of a convention in which racism was not a bug but a feature. There was even a speech by those armed Karens, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter marchers in Missouri. Trump’s own speech decried protesters as anarchists and violent extremists. 

At the march, a sign declaring “F*** this Wack Ass President” did a good job of distilling my feelings. 

One thing did strike me, though: In the midst of this great march, with the crowd so focused on exercising a vote to oust this president, there was almost no mention of the man we were all supposed to vote for. Speakers barely mentioned Joe Biden. His running mate, Kamala Harris, made an appearance, but it was brief and only by video. At T-shirt stands around the march, Biden/Harris shirts remained neatly folded, untouched, unsold. 

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a co-organizer of the march, thundered: “Our vote is dipped in blood. Our vote is dipped in those that went to their grave. We don’t care how long the line, we don’t care what you do, we’re going to vote, not for one candidate or the other, but we’re going to vote for a nation that’ll stop the George Floyds, that’ll stop the Breonna Taylors.”

For that tide of thousands marching for justice, Joe Biden matters. The fate of the tide is inescapably tied to his success in November. But Joe Biden himself is not the tide. 

It is not a love for Biden that propelled the vote drives at the march. It is the necessity of Biden. It’s a necessity given a president who propagates racism and sics the national guard on his own people. It’s a necessity given that Kenosha police officers offered a glass of water to a white teenage vigilante with an AR-15, but paralyzed an unarmed Black man by shooting him in the back seven times.

I found a friend of mine in the crowd. Energized by all the talk of voting, he turned to me: “If I were Joe Biden’s campaign manager, I wouldn’t let him miss this.” But should Biden have been there? Or does he know that this moment is much bigger than him?

History teaches that great movements are larger than any leader. I hope I was witness to one on that sweaty day in Washington. 

Natalie Johnson is a reporter-researcher for The.Ink and an illustrator.