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Keeping the Dream Alive in 2021

by Stu Johnson

Posted: January 18, 2021

Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021…



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This year's Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday comes between the assault on the U.S. Capitol by an angry mob and the inauguration of Joe Biden as President. The usually festive occasion will be a faint echo of the pomp and ceremony that traditionally has marked that day—the whole week, in fact—for all the years that all of us can remember. The city, along with many state capitals, are in virtual lock-down. Except for the participants allowed and the National Guard troops and other security forces, the Mall, which stretches from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, will be empty.

I will admit to being a sappy patriot who gets goose bumps watching Jimmy Stewart play the idealistic young politician in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." In the film, the young, politically naive, but principled young man brought in to be the puppet of the senior senator of his state faces up to bossism, corruption, and power. He recognizes that the dream of an America living out its promise of justice and liberty is a fragile one, but one worth defending and fighting for. As I watched the scene unfolding on January 6, I thought of the scenes in the film where Smith is shown in the Senate chamber, carrying on a filibuster to the point of exhaustion.

January 6 was a surreal scene. How did this mob—some as self-described super-patriots—compare to those that led to the revolution more than two centuries ago that gave birth to the nation whose Capitol they had now invaded? They came, not as peaceful and respectful visitors, but as anarchists intent on making their case that the vote was stolen and that the dreams upon which America was founded were not working for them. Were they any different, at root, from the rioters in the summer of 2020 who burned and looted the businesses and property of others who had invested their lives in a dream, while expressing that they were not allowed to be participants in that dream?

What is tearing us apart? The faces of those who invaded the Capitol building on January 6, or the capitol buildings in Lansing, Michigan or Madison, Wisconsin and other places this past summer surely represent radicalized white supremacists. But their own stories often illustrate the betrayal to them of the American dream after the collapse of the post-World-War-II boom over the past forty years as major industries collapsed, work itself was devalued, economic inequity not unlike that experienced by minorities hit a huge swath of Americans of all colors, as Big Tech joined the ranks of gargantuan monopolies in the mold of Industrial Agriculture (Big Ag), Big Money, and Big Pharma. This return to monopolistic big business began during the Reagan presidency, but has continued through Democratic as well as Republican administrations for forty years. (See the story, "The Radicalization of Kevin Greeson, ex-Obama supporter who died backing Trump at Capitol.")

It was with considerable irony that I watched the reaction to the closing of the Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts of Donald Trump and many of his followers. The very platforms that rejected them are in many ways responsible for the spread of misinformation and incendiary rhetoric because of business models focused on targeted advertising and monopolistic control,—and they had profited greatly from the presence of these now-banned individuals and organizations on their platforms (see my article "Driven Apart").

At another time, in August of 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with a crowd spilling into the Mall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have Dream Speech." It was a time when the civil rights movement was finally gaining ground. It was almost a century since Reconstruction failed following the Civil War in the "great" but tragic Compromise of 1876, which had led to the return of white supremacy and the development of Jim Crow segregation in the South, with complicit racism in the North (see my article "Unprecedented, Not!").

At this divided and critical time, it is appropriate to reflect on what King and others have said about the land in which the great experiment of democracy is carried out. The experiment has had many failures, but it goes on and, I believe, is driven by ideals and principles that we must not dismiss.

Here are a few of the more memorable phrases from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech (emphasis added). Read the full text of the speech, with additional background material at history.com.

  • “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”
  • I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
  • “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”
  • “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” [Amos 5:24]
  • I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  • 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.” [Beginning of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence]
  • “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
  • 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 a table of brotherhood.”
  • “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
  • “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
  • “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
  • “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
  • “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
  • “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.”
  • “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a crowd on the Washington Mall at a critical time in American history in August, 1963, and Joe Biden will do on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 (to a virtual audience), there are echoes of another speech at a similar time, when Abram Lincoln gave his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861. At that perilous time, he said this (emphasis added):

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. (Read more).

And so may it be in 2021, regardless of party, who we did or did not vote for . . . may we all recommit ourselves to keep the dream alive.



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Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: January 18, 2021

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