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Do we still dream?

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

"There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." The Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr from his "I Have a Dream" speech

On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people gathered in Washington DC and walked to the nation’s capital to participate in the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” At the time, it was the largest demonstration for human rights in United States history, bringing together civil and workers' rights organizations, political and religious groups, to seek jobs and justice the poor and disenfranchised from across the racial/ethnic divide.

Priests and ministers, Rabbis and Imams, Union organizers, College Presidents, women, men, Black and White... All graced the stage that day to call for justice and jobs, fairness and freedom.

President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson meet with organizers of "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. Left to right: Secretary of Labor, Willard Wirtz; National Chairman of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Floyd McKissick; Executive Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, Mathew Ahmann; President of the National Urban League, Whitney M. Young, Jr.; President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; representative for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis; President of the American Jewish Congress, Rabbi Joachim Prinz; President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), Reverend Eugene Carson Blake; President of the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), A. Philip Randolph; President Kennedy; Vice President Johnson; President of United Auto Workers (UAW), Walter P. Reuther; Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Roy Wilkins.

The day culminated with a meeting between President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, and the leaders of the march. Black and White, faith leaders and Civil Rights leaders. All seeking to end the Jim Crow era of segregation and deprivation that still endured after 100 years of emancipation.

As I have listened to podcasts and read articles observing this anniversary, I have found myself asking, "Do we still dream?"

The current reality of our world makes this a hard question to answer. While we have made so much progress in some ways, we are watching as 60 plus years of hard-won gains are being systematically dismantled by those who declare publicly funded social safety net programs, unions, environmental protections, gun control, reproductive freedom, voting rights, equal access to healthcare, police reform, (I could go on) a "Woke" socialist agenda that is somehow destroying the "real" America. (Did you know that some evangelicals are now saying Jesus is "Woke", "liberal" and "weak"?) Add to this the global rise of authoritarianism, climate instability, and the increase of AI replacing workers in all types of jobs and we are truly entering a strange new land where dreaming seems dangerous at worst, foolish, at best.

How do we dream when we are living in a dystopian novel?

It is for exactly that reason that we must take the time to dream, to reimagine the future we want to leave for those who will greet the next millennium. And if we can't dream that far ahead, we can at least imagine the world we are willing to leave for those 100 years from now.

I have no doubt that Bayard Rustin could not imagine a day when he could be an openly Gay Black man in a position of power, let alone marry his partner if he so desired. The Civil Rights movement opened the door to the Women's Rights, Gay Rights, Disabilities Rights, and Human Right's movements that defined the last 50 years.

I have no doubt that A. Phillip Randolph could not imagine a day when the armed forces would be the most racially and ethnically diverse branch of the US government, with many of the highest-ranking positions being held by people of color. While the Fair Employment Practice Committee that Randolph negotiated with President Roosevelt in the early 1940's collapsed after just five years, Randolph gave birth to a labor movement that created the minimum wage, Medicare, Medicaid, and social safety net programs we take for granted today.

I have no doubt that Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women and Anna Arnold Hedgeman of the National Council of Churches could not imagine a day when Black women would be in some of this country's most powerful positions as Supreme Court Judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and Vice President. Yet their commitment and sacrifices for an unknowable future have made these things a reality today.

Yes, we have lost ground, just as the Civil Rights movement had before the March in 1963. But they still had a dream. Faith leaders, Union organizers, Civil Rights organizations, students, railroad workers, congregations, legislators, veterans, bus drivers, house cleaners, farm workers... They all had a dream that gave us a better world today.

It is our time to dream, and to dream as big as the ancestors, so their dreams and ours can be fully realized by generations to come.

Here's to the Dream-

Pastor Robin

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