Monday, January 15, 2007

Is It Too Much to Ask?

From Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 15, 2007 - again, note that I wrote this before I had heard of Barack Obama. It's worth reflecting, regardless of your opinions, that electing him was a significant moment in our history.

Some would argue that a certain dream will never come true. They will point to the problems that we still have, and to the conflicts that still arise, and they will tell you that this is how it will always be. They will hold up the human failings of the dreamers and sneer at their faith and their goals. They will tell you that holding on to that dream is foolish and weak.

I disagree.

People will always be people, and that means there will always be something to fight over; but look at how very far we have come. Those who used to be banished to the back are now driving the bus. Those who were forced to run a gauntlet through jeering crowds to get to school are now the administrators, teachers, coaches, and superintendents. The transition is not complete, but it is implacable, and the Dream is attainable.

It is still going to be hard to take it all the way to its conclusion; past the grudging acceptance of the last generation, through the sometimes painful transition of our own, and into the peaceful and colorblind integration of the next. I can see it coming in the way my own children behave with their classmates; working together every day, seeing their similarities, and minimizing their differences.

Some have argued that this "politically correct" vision is being forced on them. They say that things like Martin Luther King's holiday and Black History Month are being shoved down their throats -- and they try to pretend as though it is this that they object to, and nothing else. They try to pretend that their resentment comes from some betrayal of their rights. To those people I say, you are not being dragged from your home and forced to endure 400 years of subjugation. You are being asked to help bring about a society where that sort of thing can't happen, and if you don't like the methods being used, you are more than welcome to offer a peaceful alternative. You have that right because courageous people like Dr. King led the fight for promised equality, and not for dominance.

And you can't stand in the way of that goal without giving the lie to your own avowed American ideals.

The beauty of the Dream was not that it led to a peaceful fairytale vision of the future; I don't think anyone has ever really believed that we could bring about Utopia. The beauty of the Dream lay in the non-violent nature of the journey. Dr. King's faith in those ideals that we have had "forced down our throats" since primary school -- the ideals of peace, freedom and equality -- is what makes his Dream so powerful. His Dream was that the so-called American Dream would come true, and we would all pay more than lip service to it.

It is that faith in our own ideals that we need to hold onto, even in the face of war.

The last few years have been a test of our belief in those ideals; a test we have done poorly on. We have allowed ourselves to be led into all of the old, familiar traps that have perpetuated violence and oppression throughout human history. "Eye for an eye", "if you are not with us you are against us", and "by any means necessary"; these are not the ideals our fabled founding fathers set out for us. These are the easy answers of the reactionary, the tool of those who crave power, and the Achilles' Heel of the ignorant.

The tragic truth is that people who truly believe in peace are few and far between. Finding people with the courage to say, "We have a reason to fight, but there is a better weapon than violence" is my own dream, though it seems impossible these days. Prevailing logic tells us that our enemies must be killed, but our methods have driven away our allies, and the violence has only continued the cycle of revenge.

What we desperately need is someone who, like Dr. King, can articulate a way to bring about peace peacefully, and can convince even the most rabid hawks to give us that chance to end the fighting.

And let's see if we can't keep that person alive this time, along with the Dream.

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