Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s moving speech in Washington, D.C., in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the '60s that included the well-known excerpt "I have a dream" truly shortchanges the outstanding gladiator of civil rights. Having equal rights among all of "God's children" without discrimination was Dr. King's passion.
Examples of his focus included: no back seat for any paying rider, voting without restrictions, equal opportunity to have education without condition, voting, and any other human activity must be available to any and all Americans. Promoting anyone's superiority over another was unacceptable and un-American in a democratic country.
Dr. King followed in the footsteps of Ghandi, who spearheaded India's struggle for freedom. Peaceful, nonviolent activities like sit-ins and civil disobedience were regular fare for Rev. King in the U.S. journey to equal rights. Past memories of attacking dogs, massive arrests, blasting water cannons against people, and banned access to restaurants, schools, and other public places dominated the struggle for change. His bravery and determination challenged the status quo of qualified freedoms for some, but not for all Americans. Hooked on hope to achieve freedom, King's leadership continued despite death threats during that turbulent time.
These words, "I have a dream," seem less representative of the struggle for equality today than before. This phrase has been compressed into a memorable sound bite, making it less powerful. Maybe it has become an "antique" in the legacy of history, or just another clever cliche.
This view may sound somewhat hypothetical since Americans seem so convinced that basic freedoms that embody the Bill of Rights, ratified by Congress on Dec. 15, 1791, cannot be infringed upon. One can say that these priceless rights with current American apathy have been chiseled away from the full strength of this 200 plus year old bill. Recently, the SAFE Act is one example of this, and the plight to get it repealed has a way to go, even though the New York Assembly did not follow procedures.
As to Dr. King's legacy, that has been diminished by the Supreme Court's recent decision to revise the original Voting Rights Act of 1965. No longer do certain egregious states in the past have to have federal review on voting legislation. Legal analyst Jeffery Toobin blogged in a magazine, "voting rights cases ... one of the top seven" legal stories of 2014. On Jan. 12, Chautauqua County Democratic Election Commissioner Norman P. Green made a comment in the OBSERVER, "With so many uncontested elections these days, voters often have no choice, and without choice, there is no democracy."
Unquestionably, democracy is "on the ropes" if people remain uninvolved or ignorant about current trends, funding and taxation, then, partisan politics will continue to saturate ineffectiveness in governmental functioning. With that in mind, this allows a one-sided view without a countering minority voice to check this lopsidedness.
Now, the question must be asked, "Who will those leaders be to take the American people out of political bondage?"
My hope is this article may bring awareness to the current emaciated version of Dr. King's legacy and pump it up. Having heard Rev. King speak in Buffalo before his death; in my mind, excellence is not an option.
This moving moment of eloquence showed me brilliant leadership, integrity, and conviction of doing besides just saying. To follow up rhetoric with determined behavior only seems to be in the past, even if, his life would be part of the end result. Let's not forget his courage under fire to bring a voice to the suffering and underprivileged, complimenting representative democracy with social justice.
Jeanne Polisoto is a Forestville resident.