Last week marked the anniversary of one of the most quoted speeches of all time. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a challenge to the American dream with one of his own. At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he recounted the state of race relations in our country along with hope for the future. Approximately 250,000 people gathered for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” to encourage and elevate the call for freedom – for action from rhetoric.
MLK’s influence was a major factor in nonviolent protest that subdued the efforts of batons and vicious attacks on those who dared to defy the status quo. Fifty-seven years have passed and although progress has been made, some of the same core issues remain. These are not the consequence of liberal or conservative ideology, rather an intransigence of spirit to recognize demographic changes and our forefather’s intent.
This is not a threat, rather a renewal of American purpose and the “American Dream.” An iron-clad will to resist violence with nonviolence is a force that cannot be underestimated. When vicious provocations are used to make a political point, issues no longer revolve around political or social ideology, rather brute force and mayhem. No one wins in this scenario.
As we enter the crucible of the election cycle, emotions can run rampant and overwhelm reasonable contemplation of facts and past experience. Use of fear and hatred of “others” is a common tactic of despots and autocratic societies… it has no place in rational dialogue of a free society. Extremes are often offered during campaigns, but typically rejected by mainstream citizens. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
MLK spoke of a “dream” that all would listen to freedom ring in “every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city”, relieved of living on a “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” While focused on the plight of African-Americans, the same sentiment applied to all “God’s children”; the dream encompasses everyone.
Fifty-seven years later, a similar speech would be appropriate. In two months, we will decide who will guide our future at many levels of government. The influence of power and prestige is enticing for many who walk the path of elected office. Corrupt behavior is difficult to resist, but there are some who do and should continue to receive support of the electorate. However, platitudes and empty promises are easily made and just as easily discarded until the next election. In order to discern content of character, it is important to focus on the efforts and practical aspects of officials.
Our system of government often balances power among members of a board or city council who are collectively responsible for decisions rather than a single individual. To hold one accountable, is to hold all accountable. The democratic process is not tidy and often a restless morass of emotions, but it can bring a positive result if we take our role seriously and with the goals outlined in the Preamble to the United States Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
MLK outlined some of the same ideals including domestic tranquility when referencing the struggle for civil rights. He cautioned his ardent supporters to refrain from violence, saying:
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. 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.”
How we meet the challenges of this election period and consider its result will expose the content of our character. Hopefully, MLK’s children and all of ours will reap the benefits of a nation that will “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”