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1963 on this day, a quarter million people came to Washington DC for the March for Jobs and Freedom.  We now refer to it as the Civil Rights March, and it is true, it had a focus on Civil Rights for African Americans -  perhaps 80% of those in attendance were Black.

Only one labor union had a significant presnece -  the United Auto Workers.

And among the 20% who were white was a just graduated from high school 17 year old boy from Larchmont New York about to leave for his freshman year at Haverford.

I think of that day, 49 years ago, where I came to Washington because I saw inequity in our nation, because I saw discrimination against people because of the color of their skin.

I think of August 28 this year, a Republican convention that will nominate Mitt Romney, whose campaign is already using racial dog whistles against America's first Black president.

Perhaps I should be ashamed for my country - not that politicians use racial dog whistles, because there are always people who lack a moral base, who will do anythkng for political or economic success regardless of the impact upon others - and clearly Romney's business career demonstrates his lack of what I would consider a moral base, so I am not surprised by the tone of his campaign, of his outright lying on Medicare, on welfare reform, and so on.  

I wonder if given the anniversary the keynote speech will attempt to appropriate the words of King the same way the Republicans who seek to destroy Medicare attempt to mislead the American people into thinking they will protect a program they seek to gut from the President who moved to extend its life by a decade.

Perhaps they should read King's entire speech from that day, the text of which you can read here  He talked about the unfulfilled promissory note of all men being created.  He used phrases like these:

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But he also offered words like these:
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
Please keep reading.

Too often people only read the ending portion of King's speech, the "I have a dream" portion.  Those words by themselves miss the power of what King was saying.  In a time when one party advocates voter id laws to attempt to keep African-Americans from voting in hopes of stealing re-election from the first Black president, perhaps we can remember an earlier part of that speech:

We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Without the vote for all there is no justice, and our legal system and political systems become as perverted as is an economic system where it is legal for the man who will tonight win the nomination of the Republican part to make millions upon millions by transferring jobs to other countries, bankrupting companies while enriching himself and his partners and investor, shift funds to other nations to avoid paying US taxes, and put out political ads that tv stations are required to run even as they contain patent falsehoods.

King told those of us in attendance, and those who listened on TV and radio

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
 Those words were directed to those who had suffered beatings, jailings, and yes - denial of the right to participate politically and loss of jobs for advocating for their rights.  

He told them, particularly those from the segregated South,

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
He then offered his dream.

I wonder what King would say looking at Tampa, or even looking at Charlotte when the Democrats gather.  In the latter case he would note the greater diversity, the participation of those of color and also of women. That he might affirm, but I have no doubt he question the lack of participation of poor people, the opulence on display in both Southern convention cities, the influence of the corporations and the wealthy, and wonder how this is an illustration of the principal of all men being created equal that so motivated those who came to Washington 49 years ago today.

King and the others who came to Washington challenged the nation to live up to its promise.  He argued

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Today instead we hear dog whistles and lies and the fomenting of hatred in order that some already powerful and wealthy can gain control of all the mechanisms of the government of We the People of the United States in order to further enrich some at the expense of the rest of us.   King argued for community, those in Tampa seek profits and personal enrichment and exemption from the civic responsibility of paying taxes to support the work that only the government can fairly do.  

August 28 has been an important date on my calendar for 49 of my 66 years on this earth.

I was young when I came to Washington for the first time in my life, but I was already committed to the idea of equality, of overcoming discrimination and hopefully converting America away from prejudice.

I too had a dream.  KIng dreamed that his children would be judged by the content of the ir character rather than by the color of their skin.  The use of racial dog whistles to win political power is contrary to that dream.  

I dreamed of a time when those who sought political office would do so on the basis of appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, words from his 1st Inaugural, offered at a time when this nation was on the precipice of an internecine conflict that almost destroyed the promise of our nation's founding.  

I no longer place the hopes of my dream on others.  I can only attempt to live by it myself, to demonstrate its power to others.

It fueled my teaching.

It fuels my living.

I refuse to accept anything lesser, which is part of why I remain politically active.

August 28.

There will be words spoken tonight whose purpose pales beyond that of 49 years ago.

As you listen to those words, and to those offered in the next few days, compare them to those offered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

As you look at how and why people gather, not merely in Tampa but also in Charlotte, remember the purpose of those gatherings and see how both pale in comparison to why a quarter million of us gathered in our nation's Capital in 1963.

Both will pale in comparison.  One has already betrayed the dream King offered to inspire the nation.

I prefer to hold on to the complete inspiration of August 28, as I experienced it in 1963.

I will measure the political rhetoric against the moral challenge King and others placed before us, not merely in their words, but in how they lived and worked.

What about you?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 03:49:17 AM PDT

  •  WI Gov. Scott Walker (R) caught race-baiting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Senor Unoball

    I saw this tweet from Wisconsin Reporter:

    Walker on "What's up for grabs in WI?" - "Anywhere outside the city of Madison and certain parts of Milwaukee. All in all, rest of WI."
    Madison, Wisconsin is predominately White but is a bastion of liberal activists and Milwaukee, Wisconsin has many predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. When Walker referred to "certain parts of Milwaukee", he was referring to the predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods of Milwaukee.

    Walker outlined the campaign strategy for Wisconsin Republicans: pit the rest of the state of Wisconsin against the liberal activists in Madison and the ethnic minorities in Milwaukee.

    Joe Lieberman, Mike Madigan, Andrew Cuomo, and Tim Cullen...why are they Democrats?

    by DownstateDemocrat on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 04:25:37 AM PDT

  •  any other witnesses in the house? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, jgilhousen, Senor Unoball

    would be great to hear from them, too.

    Thank you TK.

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 04:26:49 AM PDT

  •  How sad that instead of learning from our (5+ / 0-)

    greatest leaders, we have a disturbing tendency to murder them instead. I'm a practically life-long admirer of Dr. King. I'm sure he would be appalled by the hate-filled republicans, but his heart would surely break to see how the democrats have abandoned the poor.

    We need what Dr. King had to offer us now more than ever. Alas.

    ...until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
  •  I was twelve years old, living in rural Oregon. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Senor Unoball

    I was transfixed by the march on television.  The gathering of such huge numbers of people was incomprehensible to me.  Kids that age have an especially acute sense of fairness, and I was particularly sensitive to inequities, even though I was only beginning to develop any political awareness.

    I was already grappling with my own issues of being different, and the social ostracism that was just starting to come into play in my life.  So, it is probably natural that I identified with those who had been pushed to the margins, and now, were taking a stand.

    I'll never forget hearing Dr. King's speech for the first time.  I was only vaguely aware of who he was.  His name was seldom mentioned in our typical 1950's exurban Republican household.  When it was, the tone was usually more dismissive than derogatory, if that distinction makes any sense at more than a superficial level.

    The cadence of his voice was at once foreign yet mesmerizing.  When he came to the often quoted concluding line about his "four little children" and the "content of their character," this pubescent white boy got a lump in my throat, and tears welled up in my eyes.  That one sentence went a long way in shaping the content of my own character, and its echoes have permeated my life and work to this day.

    Thanks to Dr. King, and many visionaries and leaders who followed, and despite the immensity of the work that yet remains before the prize is in our hands, not just our eyes...

    I still have a dream.

    Ad crearent magis et melius Democratae.

    by jgilhousen on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 07:55:35 AM PDT

  •  A lifetime ago, and more (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Senor Unoball, teacherken

    Forty-nine years ago - a decade longer than Dr. King's entire life - I was a 15-year-old California girl, dragged with my family at short notice to spend the summer in TX, helping my grandparents and uncles and cousins. My extended family were very progressive, and I'd never been exposed before, on shorter visits, to the naked racism that I saw that summer among their friends. Just one example: the 16-year-old boy who asked if it was really true that we swam with the "cullahed" in California - that led to such a heated discussion that we turned around from the proposed swimming date and went home.

    Dr. King's speech, at the end of that summer, came for me as a response to something I now saw as much more pervasive and insidious than the brutality of the Southern sheriffs.

    Moreover, his speech was bracketed by two deaths that led to changes both national and personal. The assassination of President Kennedy, just a few months later, in my senior year in high school, marked my generation indelibly. The next five years saw our country both aspire to new achievements in social justice (the Civil Rights act, Medicare) and dig ourselves deeper into a terrible war.

    But that was not the only death that influenced me. Two months before Dr. King's speech, Medgar Evers, the head of the Mississippi NAACP and an eminent leader for voting rights in that state, was shot dead, in his own driveway, in front of his wife and small children. One year later, his widow, Myrlie Evers, returned to college - in my very class, at the same time I started at Pomona. We graduated together, one semester early. I met her only a few times, at dinner, and was too shy and too much in awe to say much. But her presence, her commitment, and her history made a deep impression on me.

    In those days, you had to be 21 to vote, and I turned 21 just barely in time to vote in the 1968 presidential elections (against Nixon - need you ask?). Since then, I have voted in every election except one, the Menlo Park sanitation board in 1969, and I still feel a little guilty about that. Voting is so easy for me, and no one has ever challenged my right to do so. But when i was 15, the husband of someone I knew was murdered for trying to register voters. That death was surely on Dr. King's mind as he gave that talk.

    And here we are, 49 years later, longer than either Dr. King or Medgar Evers was allowed to live, still fighting to ensure the right to vote, and the right to equal justice for all. To me, every vote matters, in the same way that every person matters. We have not only the memory, but the obligation to respond to the preacher's call, as a legacy of August 28.

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