Some two hundred thirty years ago, fifty-six men put their signatures at the bottom of a document that would form the basis for a new nation, and thereby change the world. They did so knowing that, should they ever be caught by the British enemy, they would be tried as traitors and hanged. This document began thus:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ((The Declaration of Independence))
These fifty-six men, and most of the people they represented, used these words to express their dream of a better world, a “more perfect union”.
Over the course of the following centuries, various men and women have risen up in defense of their dreams: the Women’s Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war protesters (“Make love, not war!”) of the 1960’s and ’70’s.
Dr. Martin Luther King.
Part of the strength of Dr. King was that he managed to summarize all these various dreams and put them into words that resonated not only with black people in America, but with peoples all across the world. His struggle resonated all the way to South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was fighting apartheid.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. ((American Rhetoric))
Today, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, which happens to be the eve of the the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, it seems we are coming full circle. In less than two days, on the very steps where Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech, Barack Hussein Obama will officially become the first African-American President of the same country where, less than four decades ago, lynching blacks was nearly a recreational sport in some parts of the country. Barack Hussein Obama, a man born of a union that was illegal until 1967’s “Loving v Virginia” ruling, a man whose middle name is the same as the last name of a man we had executed in an effort to “free” the Iraqi people, a man who truly is “African“-American, will seek to lead this country to it’s full potential.
How’s that for mind boggling?
Dr. King’s dream is coming true.
Barack Obama has a dream of his own, which he has been expressing more fully over the last few hours, in various “whistle stop” speeches delivered from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Channeling JFK, Lincoln, King, FDR and other great American leaders, he is attempting to set a tone for the future by reminding America of what has already been accomplished, both by political leaders of the past and ordinary American citizens “doing what they can for their country”, to paraphrase Kennedy.
And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not. What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that those first patriots displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.
[…] I also believed something else. I believed that our future is our choice, and that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, north, south, east and west, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American, gay and straight, disabled and not – then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.
I expect the Inaugural address will stress responsibility, accountability, courage. I also expect he will continue to look back to the past for inspiration, while urging us all to look forward with good old fashioned American fortitude.
[…]I also believed something else. I believed that our future is our choice, and that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, north, south, east and west, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American, gay and straight, disabled and not – then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.
It is the same thing that gave me hope from the day we began this campaign for the presidency nearly two years ago; a belief that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together — Democrats, Republicans, independents; Latino, Asian and Native American; black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not — then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.
This is what I believed, but you made this belief real. You proved once more that people who love this country can change it. And as I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me every day when I walk into that Oval Office — the voices of men and women who have different stories but hold common hopes; who ask only for what was promised us as Americans — that we might make of our lives what we will and see our children climb higher than we did.
It is this thread that binds us together in common effort; that runs through every memorial on this mall; that connects us to all those who struggled and sacrificed and stood here before.
It is how this nation has overcome the greatest differences and the longest odds — because there is no obstacle that can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change.
That is the belief with which we began this campaign, and that is how we will overcome what ails us now. There is no doubt that our road will be long, that our climb will be steep. But never forget that the true character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard. I ask you to help reveal that character once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today. ((Lincoln Memorial Center, Sunday January 18, 2009))
In case you missed the pre-inaugural festivities (as I did), try HBO’s “We Are One” presentation.