SAN ANTONIO — The rush is on to come up with a new plan, now that this year's Martin Luther King March has been canceled due to the spike in COVID cases and concerns.
Commission Chair Renee Watson said at a Thursday night meeting that stretched for hours, commission members insisted that safety has to be job one.
"We cannot fight this monster called omicron," Watson said, adding "The march is like a reunion. If you're hugging on each other, breathing on each other, we cannot enforce mask wearing at the march."
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez praised the hard work by the commission, but he said he knows people will still want to honor the slain civil rights leader, in what is traditionally called the largest march in the country.
"I know my district and people are going to march anyway. This will not stop them," so McKee-Rodriguez said he is looking for input from everyone on creative solutions.
"My role is to make sure we can sanction this in some way so that people can participate safely."
McKee-Rodriguez said all kinds of ideas are on the table, with the goal of respecting the wishes of the King family.
"The King family is very adamant that this is not a celebration," McKee-Rodriguez said.
Watson said this year's theme of "Free To Be" will be honored.
"Some folks said last night 'free to be alive by not marching.'" Watson said.
The plan for January 17 is still developing but it includes using Pittman Sullivan Park as a drive-thru focused on health.
Traditionally, the park at the end of the march route has been a place for speeches, and making community connections with informational booths and food and drink.
Because there are only a few days to pivot, this year has to be scrappier, McKee-Rodriguez said "There are a lot of resources and there is money saved in not staging the event and we need to deploy those resources in a new way."
This year, Watson said, everything will be done to give community members a chance to fight the virus. "You can drive through. You can get your vaccine. You can get your booster. You can also get your testing done," Watson said.
McKee-Rodriguez said one of the ideas being floated is a plan to keep people in their cars for some kind of driving event, but he stopped short of calling it a parade.
"I don't know what we would call it. It needs to be a demonstration of power, of togetherness, of unity. And it has to consider the intentions of the King family," McKee-Rodriguez said.
More details will be released after the Commission meets Monday night.
Until then, the city's website will be used as a resource hub for those wanting to offer input about ways to mark the day in a safe way.
Watson said she knows the community is strong and that people will still find a way to have a day on, not a day off.