Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I have a dream today.

Yesterday, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial opened on the National Mall, just a stone’s throw from the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King delivered his inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. The very fact of this memorial is a breathtaking testament to how far we’ve come in the realization of Dr. King’s dream. While the memorial opened to the public yesterday (see link below), the official dedication will take place this coming Sunday, August 28, 2011, on the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

I was one year old on August 28, 1963. Too young to remember the speech when it was originally delivered, yet it became deeply etched in the DNA of my entire generation, even those of us who were babies when Dr. King actually delivered it. His dream was for us. I’m white yet I feel his dream included me. He dreamed of black children and white children together, no “separate but equal”, just equal. To this day, I cannot listen to that profoundly stirring speech without tearing up. So much of his dream has been realized, just as he envisioned it from the “mountaintop”. He would be (and I imagine he is, looking down on events such as the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president) so gratified and glad of that. Yet so very much is left to be done, not just for people of color, but for all oppressed people. Dr. King deeply cared about his specific people, African-Americans, yet he also clearly saw the non-violent fight for civil rights and freedom as a universal struggle.  If any are not free, none are truly free. As Dick Gregory once said: “Oppression is more detrimental to the oppressor than it is to the oppressed.” A society and a world that tolerates violence, let alone encourages it in any way(s), against any group will never be healthy, will never be truly free.

In our own country and in our world, there is so much of Dr. King’s dream, so much of the work of it, left to do for those of us who were one year old or not even born yet when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Just focusing on our country (if I panned out to the entire world, that would make for a LONG blog), it is hard to know where to start and easy to get extremely discouraged. There is so much inequality, so much hatred, so much bigotry. Inequality takes many forms. There is inequality in the law as, for example, gay people cannot marry in many states, which is a clear, classic denial of civil rights. Separate but equal water fountains were never really equal, nor is a civil union really the same thing as a marriage certificate. Failed private corporations are bailed out with tax dollars while children live in poverty and elected officials at all levels try to slash and burn programs like Medicaid, Headstart and WIC that help them. I WANT my taxes to go to our children, not to failed corporations like AIG. Our government wants to subsidize new nuclear plants but decimate public education, Social Security and Medicare. In other words, private corporations come first in our society, actual human citizens of the country are a distant second.

I think that Dr. King would see all of this as part of the struggle, as the ongoing work we need to do to fully realize the dream. Folks, we are nowhere near done. As my mom often says about various and sundry things, “Thank God we’re this far!”, yet while it is important to acknowledge how far we’ve come, it is even more important to honor Dr. King’s dream by honestly seeing that we are nowhere near done. There is hatred, there is bullying, there is oppression, there is violence, there is an ever-widening chasm between rich and poor, there is disparity in our laws.  There is still “separate but equal”, it just takes new forms. We have to see it with clarity and fight it with the same “soul force”, the same creative, non-violent means that visionary, inspiring, effective leaders like Dr. King and Gandhi employed.

Are the days of marching in the streets, hand in hand, standing one for all and all for one, over? No. As Dr. King said in 1963, this is “not an end, but a beginning”.

Further reading:  WAMU article on MLK Memorial opening to the public