March on "This Town"By http://profile.typepad.com/1237764140s22740 // August 28, 2013 in Books, US History
I'm looking forward to listening to some of the speeches from Washington DC today, either as they are broadcast while I'm at work, or else as rebroadcast later in the day.
Just as with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, King's I Have a Dream Speech has many phrases which resonate at all levels of art and philosophy.
The passage from King's speech I am taken with this week, here on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, is this:
'This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning: "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.'
It's the dependent clause, "If America is to be a great nation," that grabs you. King, like Lincoln, found, identified, fixed, called out that entrepreneurial and aspirational genius that sets America apart, makes the American experiment exceptional: the positive energy of our nation, what propels the society, is an expectation that we may actually, some day, realize, live and embody our own, radical, founding ideals.
As an American you embrace this existential uncertainty every time you sing the Star-Spangled Banner. "Oh say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" It is an unanswered question.
Each generation of Americans is responsible for moving the ball forward, for calling ourselves to account on where our prejudices keep us from the standards we know are required.
Of late, I am thinking about the two journalists on NPR, who last week on air mocked a transgendered young person in transition for asserting her identity. Dr. King would not have stood for that and it should not be okay in America to do that.
Because my work has me dealing with angel investing on a daily basis, I'm aware, admittedly only late, that the rule set on who is allowed to invest discriminates against investors in same-sex relationships. That is shameful, shaming, and immoral, and it should not be okay in America to perpetuate that degrading double standard.
Washington DC is a silly, venal, superficial town - or at least that is the impression of it I am getting from reading "This Town" by Mark Leibovich, a celebration of being in the "in" crowd in DC by an author very much taken with his own insider status.
But I think that is okay. The political class, like the Hollywood class, probably has to reflect that kind of temperament to fulfill the functions they have.
Not okay is for the citizenry to be uninformed, indifferent, to act like consumers, to participate uncritically in the handover of the internet to a corporate few.
We have Lincoln's and King's voices to energize us and help us see that next plateau.