Saturday, January 19, 2013

March on Washington

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech "I Have a Dream." Marking an end of an epoch, this man had to pay a heavy price for his incredible courage. The 'Dream' had to be soaked into the heavy drips of his own blood, sacrifice of his own precious life. Like Jesus Christ he came as a missionary, a man with a new vision for a better life, for better humanity. His concept of freedom, equality, and justice were quite different from those of the rest, living among him. He came to write a new era, and fearlessly opened it himself by boldly marching forward, towards his vision. It might not have even occurred to him how crazy his ideas seemed, and how much hatred he raised among so many. Empowered by his passionate quest for justice, he persisted against the ugly cynicism and debilitating complacence of the past, and forged a new path for America and the rest of humanity. That was the dream, lived through his own life, struggles, fears, vision and faith... That was the dream, that could become true if only people ultimately understood what was right and what was wrong. Even if they did not understand it in their souls, the power of law was going to force them to understand and comply with the new way of life.

Dr. King knew that most people still lived in the age of darkness, when it was quite all right to have racism, segregation, and effective slavery of the black race. He knew well enough that racism had its source in the hearts and minds of people, that no law in the world would change it. As an idealist, he envisioned the world free of darkness, and called on people to come out to the light, by rejecting the status quo, eliminating the chains and shackles of virulent discrimination of the black people. As a realist, though, he understood that this had to be accomplished first by the power of law. If the law was set in place, ending segregated schools, ending segregated housing, ending segregated public accommodations, etc., it would force upon people a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new reality that would also slowly erode the racism from their hearts. But he couldn't wait, he had no patience for slow change. He wanted it 'Now.' He understood the urgency of 'Now.'

So, his goals were two-fold, force passage of new laws, that would fundamentally alter the status quo, despite the strong and virulent opposition, and also call upon people to embrace his dream, in their hearts and their minds.

Today as a nation we have come a long way, thanks to Dr. King. We have been able to cross milestones. This is no longer the same America that was in place on August 28, 1963. But the dream has been shed too many times, and in too many subtle and not so subtle ways, to be ignored. The difference now is that while people recognize right from wrong, they still act on their deeply-seated biases, covertly. People were less politically correct and less in-tune with 'demands' of the civilized society. Now it has become harder to catch people in wrong-doing because they have learned to camouflage it, and find other excuses. The hypocrisy of today's world is quite stark. In the old days, people would call an African-American a 'nigger' and the KKK would lynch him with impunity. Now no one dares to utter this deeply insulting word, and organizations like KKK are illegal. White supremacism is now only an underground irrational and hard-recognized 'psyche' of the white people, who still harbor discrimination against the blacks, Hispanics, etc.

Behind the halls of justice, in any criminal courthouse, in California, a large majority of criminal defendants are black. You wonder, how did that happen. Does poverty breed crime and why are blacks still poor? Why weren't they able to have a fair shot at the riches of this Earth, unless there was some other scourge besieging them, some other unfair force weighing them down to the lowest position in society. What other scourge besides racism, can we point to?!

When you go to Compton, a predominantly black neighborhood, a poor ghetto, you wonder, did Dr. King's dream have any chance of coming true? Did we fail that dream somehow? Did we really give our best shot at it, as a society, as a nation, as a humanity? I don't have an answer for it. But I know in my heart and in my soul, I have a sacred obligation to embrace, live through and fight for that dream, every day.