Rustin: the Movie

February 16, 2024

A historical film that speaks directly to our times

Rustin the movie summer, 1199ers again traveled to Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Healthcare union members know we cannot afford to allow themselves to be divided by race, ethnicity, religion, gender expression or sexual orientation... or anything else. Solidarity is needed more than ever as we hurtle towards the tight race to control the country this November. When working people work together, we can change the course of history. That is what Rustin reminds us.

In 1963, an astonishing 250,000 people converged on the Lincoln Memorial following an audacious organizing campaign led by the venerable activist, Bayard Rustin, sending a clear and powerful message to the elected representatives of the day.

Unless the Democrats take a stand against segregation, Rustin explains in the movie, “our people will not show up for them.” Sure enough, the Civil Rights Act was passed in July 1964, less than a year after the massive show of strength in the nation’s capital.

But it was no easy road to get there. There were factional divisions within the movement, which are deftly depicted in the film. Not only were the then U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond and F.B.I. Director J Edgar Hoover doing their best to derail the march by discrediting Rustin personally—he was gay—but Rustin also faced stiff opposition from fellow civil rights activists.

In order to shore up his backing in the movie, Rustin asks Dr Martin Luther King with passion:

“Explain to me why, after all that is left undone am I yet again forced to justify my existence. Each of us are taught in ways both cunning and cruel that we are inadequate, incomplete. And the easiest way to combat that feeling of not being enough is to find someone we consider less than. Less than because they are poorer than us or because they are darker than us or because they desire someone our churches and our laws say they should not desire.

“When we tell ourselves such lies, start to live and believe such lies, we do the work of our oppressors by oppressing ourselves. Strom Thurmond and Hoover don’t give a sh*t about me. What they really want to destroy is all of us coming together and demanding this country change.”

Rustin is available to watch on Netflix.