Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Day After the March, the Years After the Freedom Rides

I've spent some time this week thinking about inspirational speeches and social justice movements.  I've thought about the March on Washington fifty years ago, and I've wondered what people did the morning after the March.

I know, I know, they went home.  And then what?

Based on how much society has changed, I assume they kept working to transform their society into one that arcs towards justice, to use King's phrase from a different speech.

Last night when I came home, we watched the end of the PBS documentary about the Freedom Riders.  How I love those crazy kids who said, "Hey, why shouldn't we eat lunch together in public?  Hey, why not ride a bus together through the deep South?"

It's hard to imagine how reviled they were for having those thoughts and following through with action.  And now, I routinely go out to lunch with friends of different races.  We could ride a bus together across the nation if we had the stamina.

It makes me think of what social justice issues we struggle with today and which ones will be solved in relative terms in 50 years.

It makes me think of how those changes are won.

When I was 19 I complained bitterly about the slow pace of change.  I was counseled by my wise elders to just keep slogging because change seems to come slowly, but it's happening even when you can't see it.  I sighed with the impatience of the young.

And then Eastern Europe was set free, and Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and lived to tell the tale--and to be elected president of South Africa.  My 1984 self would not have believed that possible.

And now we have a black president.  My 2001 self would not have thought she'd have seen that day for another 30 years.

I heard a commentator on a Public Radio show say that life is just as bad for a majority of minority citizens now as it was 50 years ago.  But I must disagree--vociferously.

It was interesting to watch the footage contained in the Freedom Riders documentary:  people felt free to appear in public in their KKK robes, and people knew they could kill black people with impunity and no fear of jail.  Access to a better life for minorities was much more restricted--it could be done, but it was much more of a battle. 

I'm not arguing that we've achieved utopia--I know that our educational system is still quite skewed, for example.  But we agree that we should keep fighting to improve it so that everyone gets a good education.  We didn't have that consensus in 1961.

What I most love about this country is the idea that we can change it.  We don't have to live life as we've always lived it.  And I agree with those who have pointed out that each generation seems more committed to fairness for all.

I suspect that in decades to come, we won't recognize our country.  I hope that we won't recognize it because more people have more options to live a full life than we ever thought possible.  I hope that because more people are striving towards their dreams, we'll all wake up to say, "Wow.  We've achieved more than I would have thought possible."

No comments: