Thursday, August 28, 2008
as the world prepares to hear barack obama give the most important speech of his political career, it's interesting to note that today marks the 45th anniversary of the iconic i have a dream speech, delivered by martin luther king, jr to well over 200,000 people at the lincoln memorial during the march on washington for jobs and freedom. no one seems to pay any attention to the fact that the speech was only 15 minutes long and the section that everyone quotes ad nauseum -- i have a dream, today! -- was improvised. actually, his advisors wanted him to leave that part out of the speech because he'd used it 30 times in the previous months and they were convinced that it was tired and that he needed something new. what they didn't understand was that with each delivery, he was refining the way he would express this idea. they stayed up all night writing a new section to replace it. when dr. king was up there and in the moment, he launched into it anyway, and the rest is history.
have you ever heard the entire speech? in a sound-bite friendly world, not very many people have, so i thought i'd post it in its entirety.
no one ever brings up the fact that in the last year or so of his life, dr. king was focused on poverty and the underclass of every race, and criss-crossed the country to create "a multiracial army of the poor." when he died, the poor people's campaign had already been assembled and he was in the midst of organizing a second march on washington to address economic injustice. he wanted congress to enact a poor people's bill of rights. dr. king called this "the second phase" of the civil rights struggle. the media predicted an insurrection. can you imagine?
i can't even begin to fathom what this country would be like if it fully addressed the class struggle and made a concerted effort to eradicate the american serf. the powers that be and the media elite have a difficult time acknowledging that such a person exists, in part because it's not in their best interest to do so. what's clear is that the race issue -- as real and insidious and as horrible as it is -- is used as a well-worn distraction to keep everyone's attention diverted away from the economic issues and what's really at stake politically. the i have a dream speech had such a unifying effect. for one bright, shining moment, we were america, united. and then they killed him.
i'm not so sure that the dream is coming full circle with obama's nomination, simply because of this historical and much heralded coincidence. there is a saying i live by: if you want to make your dreams come true, wake up. after watching the democratic national convention over the past few days, it's clear that many of us are wide awake and taking a stand, and that's a beautiful thing that gives me a lot of hope.
could obama unite us? the truth is, everybody talks a great game because they know the socially acceptable things to say, and they make every effort to be politically correct to avoid conflict and save face. everybody rehearses their political opinions before they leave the house. the bottom line is, what they do when they step into a booth to vote is another issue entirely -- if they make the effort and vote at all. remember: half the people in this country who are eligible to vote didn't bother to do so in the last election. that could very easily happen again.
there are others who definitely need a wake-up call about what's really going on politically, here and in the rest of the world. if mccain gets elected, they're going to get it.