50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on the Washington Mall. Just a few miles to the south is Virginia, my home state, which bitterly resisted the integration of schools even after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. Even decades later, we still had parks that were considered “white parks” and others that were considered “black parks.” My home town of Staunton, Virginia was a prime example of this, and while people of all races used both parks, Montgomery Hall Park was still considered the lesser of the two available to the public when I moved away a decade ago.
Now here in Louisiana, we still have segregation, practiced by both whites and blacks. If you go to any of the small towns in my area, almost every single one has a “black church” and a “white church” – often just a couple blocks from each other. Ask anyone why this is and they’ll respond with “that’s just the way it’s always been.” While segregation may have been struck down by the Supreme Court all those years ago, it is still alive and thriving throughout our country, regardless of whether it is Louisiana, Virginia, Massachusetts or California.
A lot of people have the mindset that since they’re not prejudiced and they have friends of various ethnic backgrounds, that absolves them of any responsibility to continue the dream that Dr. King passed on to us on that August day in 1963. Too many people think that their assumed lack of prejudice coupled with “clicktivism” is enough, but I’m here to tell you that it is not. “Liking and Sharing” some picture on social media to show that you are against the new effort to disenfranchise poor and minority voters is not enough. Signing a petition to indicate your disgust having polls moved and early voting days slashed is a pathetic excuse for real action.
In the 1960’s young people from outside the South came to help register black voters, and some paid for it with their lives. Today, many of the states who had voting restrictions that our parents and grandparents fought to tear down are back on the move to “take their country back,” which basically means making it as hard as they can for anyone who might vote against their ideas to get to the polls.
There are some that thought desegregation meant the end of injustice or that by electing a black man as President, it meant we were finally a post-racial nation. They couldn’t be more wrong. Now more than ever, there is an alliance between conservative politicians and an aging demographic who originally stood in opposition to Dr. King’s dream. The same accusations of “socialism” and “communism” are still being used to demonize those who want equality and opportunities for all, not just the few who are selected based off the color of their skin or the financial standings of their family.
If we want the dream of equality for all to be realized, we will have to get out from behind our computers and get to work. We can find those who might be kept from voting and make sure they get to the polls. We can make sure that they get an ID if they don’t already have one and we can volunteer for political campaigns. Too many people have stood idly by, and now we are watching the dismantlement of the Voting Rights Act and attacks on other legislation that is threatening to undo decades of progress.
Whether it was the labor or civil rights movement, many devoted their lives to the cause of racial and economic equality. Let’s not have their sacrifices be dishonored by our inaction.
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