Progress in America:
(1) The March, The Butler & The Future
50 years on, sitting in front of TV watching the commemoration of the March on Washington. Listening to the reverberation of those heroes after 50 years. King’s daughter. Imagine her strength. Imagine the Kennedy’s deciding to have her father spied upon as the most dangerous Negro in America. Imagine her strength after having her father shot. For supporting Sanitation Workers in Tennessee. The march in 1963. I didn’t go because I was moving to Michigan for graduate school I think it was. Had to be there and find an apartment before Labor Day. But I’m not really sure. Anyhow, what a sorry choice it seems after 50 years.
Same day, later: went to see The Butler. A great portrayal of the struggle through the eyes of one black man who saw so much. His memory squares with mine. I had less than a bit part in the ‘movement.’ I worked with NSM (the Northern Student Movement). We were sort of an ally of SNCC, but mainly we worked on education in the inner cities of the North. I was in DC, tutoring kids in math for summer of ‘63.
But don’t kid yourself, I went to an organizing meeting for the Freedom Rides in Spring 1961. But even though I found the issue of race at the top of my agenda, Freedom Rides were too scary for me. I didn’t have the backbone. And I felt shame because I knew that was the reason - being chicken. Signing up with the NSM was easier. Something I learned about myself. It allowed me to appreciate the strength and bravery of others and let me grow to take on more responsibility as time went on.
But seeing the story of Cecil and Gloria Gaines’ growth into accepting the importance of the struggle for justice squared with my memories. I recall that doing that bit for NSM, and later, raising some money for SNCC, I found whites and blacks both equally apprehensive - and enthusiastic - about supporting ‘the cause.’ Many felt the movement ‘didn’t touch them.’ Many felt they ‘weren’t called to be involved.’ Many felt it was best left to others. But the few that did mobilize made a huge difference here - and elsewhere in the world. Through their example of accomplishment it was easier - much easier - to mobilize individuals to march against the war and then for women’s rights, for rights for the disabled, and for equal treatment of gay and lesbian relations.
But as we sit and reflect on the accomplishments, the agenda that is left undone in this country is appalling. We are the country without universal medical coverage, with millions incarcerated, with exclusionary laws governing voting rights, a large part of the public denying global warming, environmental responsibility, the lack of economic opportunity for more than half our population, and much more. We sit in a sea of glorified ignorance where so many citizens are proud to presume our President wasn’t born in the United States, is a Muslim, evolution is a myth, and the proliferation of guns doesn’t threaten individual safety.
Democracy without education is like machinery without lubricant. It grinds to a halt. Where we have come from is clear and a thing to celebrate. Where we are choosing to go is another matter entirely.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013