In his final speech, King proclaimed his utopian vision for American culture: “I have a dream.” 43 years later, is that dream any closer to reality?
In some ways everything is different: Not only was the nation’s first black president elected with an overwhelming majority, he was done so without a single of the disgusting violent race riots that plagued King’s decade. Indeed Rep. John Lewis, veteran of the Civil Rights movement, praised Mr. Obama’s election as a fulfillment of that movement’s promise.
But in some ways everything is the same. As Huffington Post points out, defense spending continues to grow inexorably, as if of its own volition. Even with a president like Obama, who came into office decidedly anti-war, with eradicating nukes as one of his key objectives, the proposal to reduce defense spending by a paltry 2% is subject to bitter dispute. And that was before new concerns about China’s military advances bubbled up this month.
And then there are the guns. Despite unprecedented access to combat-grade guns, nothing that challenges the wisdom of this policy seems to move us any closer into limiting their ready availability. Even in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, new proposed legislation to massive magazine clips that allow assassins to fire many rounds without reloading is picking up no traction. According to the Associated Press, “Most lawmakers are greeting calls for tougher gun restrictions after the Arizona shootings with silence, reflecting the tilt in recent years toward expanding access to firearms rather than curtailing it.”
More so than probably any president since King’s time, many Americans have hung their “dreams” of a utopian America on Barack Obama. But his administration has still awarded corporate interests over main street, and reacted to the transparency that WikiLeaks forced upon them by calling for Julian Assange to be executed.
Whatever your particular vision of the “promised land” looks like, it’s hard to believe we’re living in it.
In his “I Have A Dream” speech, King wonders how’d he’d answer if “the Almighty said to me, ‘Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” He ends up deciding that he’d live right then in his time.
While the disasters around us—from bank scandals to Invading countries under false pretenses—might prove that governments never change, the and behavior of Americans seems to indicate that people can and do change. Sure, we basically still hate each other across the partisan divide. We still gather in big protests like the Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart rallies. But at least now we get together and make jokes about each other, and leave the violence and police dogs out of it. We write nasty things about each other online, but we don’t lynch each other.
The astounding legislative intransigence following the Gabrielle Giffords shooting reinforces what we already knew—governments don’t change. At least not until people do. Even Dwight Eisenhower, when he was president, wasn’t able to change the government, and had to leave office with an exit speech imploring people to keep a watchful eye on the military-industrial complex. The ability of presidents to alter the course of that trajectory, he knew, was limited.
So personally, given the choice, I’d choose to live now. I’d live in the age of WikiLeaks, blogging and Facebook, when information spreads faster and it’s harder than ever for governments to control and evade their people. It’s not the promised land, but it does seem less shitty than it was. And that’s something.