The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
It’s been almost 50 years since the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I have a dream speech. Since that moment in time, his motivation allowed the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the creation of Medicare (both in 1964), and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. His strong opposition to the Vietnam War changed the course of the conflict, and his never-ending support for the elimination of poverty in America gave way to programs that would end the suffering.
But since his death in 1968, his goals for an America free of bigotry and hate have been stalled. The election of Ronald Reagan began an unprecedented re-distribution of wealth from the bottom to the top. Social programs were either eliminated or scaled back. Social Security, which was largely solvent, was raided in order to give the wealthy tax breaks, not to mention the increased deficit in the country’s budget.
If Martin Luther King Jr. would have been alive to see his 83rd birthday, no doubt, he would be highly disappointed by the state of his vision for a better country. Despite the election of the first African-American president, the country is still deeply divided, even more so now than in years past. Racism still rears it’s ugly head through the Tea Party. Ultra-right wing forces who’ve created the group have threatened to send the country back it’s pre-1964, where there would be no Medicare, no Civil Rights and no Social Security.
They’ve also enacted voting legislation severely curtailing the rights of minorities in 32 states. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling has given large corporations unlimited spending power to influence elections through advertising without any accountability. This year’s election will determine if this country will move forward, or be sent backward to another dark period in time.
If there’s one thing I think Dr. King would have been most encouraged by, it would be the creation of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He would have been proud of the fact that his message of non-violence for social change was adopted successfully by the movement. Which is why it’s so important to “protect the dream.” We need to make sure that Dr. King’s vision of social justice is carried out for this generation and the next.