Friday, September 1, 2023

And the Dream Goes On


Sixty years ago on August 27, some 250,000 people gathered on the mall in Washington, D.C. for the March for Jobs and Freedom. When you read the testimony of those who attended, all these years later, they share an experience of human connection across race and class that was extraordinary. It was as if, looking toward the Lincoln Memorial, the civil war was finally ended at heart, and we were one nation again, indivisible.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech that day. It wasn’t simply “his” dream. It was an American dream! It was a dream present in our founding documents (“all men are created equal”). That March and gathering was the energy that soon produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (recently gutted by the Trump Supreme Court).

The gutting action of the Supreme Court illustrates the problem with racial harmony. It seems we constantly take two steps forward and one step back. Or is it one step forward and two steps back? As I write this we have just learned of another racial hate crime, this one in Jacksonville, Florida. The shooter “hated Black people.” Stopped by security guards at the historically Black, Edwards Waters University, he moved on to the Dollar General store where he killed three Black people before taking his own life. He was in his twenties with an assault rifle covered in swastikas.

In another instance of returning to older days, led by a former President claiming election fraud in every American city with large numbers of people of color, we now have states gerrymandering and restricting voters of color at every possible turn. How will that create a more “perfect union?”

A smaller group gathered in Washington over the weekend to remember the original March of 1963. There was more gender equality on the podium. There was general recognition of the continuing challenges. There was a plea for change, especially in the younger voice of 15 year old Yolanda King.
"If I could speak to my grandfather today, I would say I’m sorry we still have to be here to rededicate ourselves to finishing your work and ultimately realizing your dream. Today, racism is still with us. Poverty is still with us. And now, gun violence has come for places of worship, our schools and our shopping centers."

So much unfinished business!

In August of 1974, the CIA issued a report on climate change. The first page of the report informs us that climate change began in 1960, some 60+ years ago. The report warned of: “a new era of weird weather, leading to political unrest and mass migration (which, in turn, would cause more unrest).” There were other warnings from the scientific community and as the years passed, the evidence grew stronger as droughts and floods and fires and weird weather like derechos, became more numerous; and the number of refugees from climate catastrophes increased. And here we are in 2023 with Presidential candidates unable or unwilling to address climate change as they stage a first debate.

When asked by the moderators about climate change, Governor DeSantis was the first to speak up, essentially avoiding the question and giving all the rest of the candidates an opportunity to avoid it as well. Only Vivek Ramaswamy addressed it clearly, calling climate change a “hoax” (like our former President). He ventured to say more people had been harmed from climate change policy than from climate change. I wanted him to stand in front of grieving fire families on the island of Maui, or the starving survivors of draught in Sudan, and justify his claim. The whole earth is experiencing record heat, Vivek! Wake up!

The good news is that young people won their climate court case in Montana. They had argued the state failed to protect their right to a clean environment by continuing their use of fossil fuels. In 2021, the fossil fuel industry supported more than 28,000 jobs in Montana, with oil and gas production taxes of $121 million paid to the state. Legislators did their best, trying to exempt the climate problems of fossil fuel extraction from litigation, without success.

I find that court case hopeful, especially the courage and tenacity of the young people who brought it. Like Yolanda King, they are exhibiting the vision of dreamers, as so many of their aged elders have gone to sleep, believing nightmares are all there is. May the dreamers help set us back on the road to our ideals of harmony, equality and a livable earth.

Carl Kline

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