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The crimes of freedom
It has taken a long time but the dream of equality and freedom that Martin Luther King evoked so eloquently in Washington in 1963 may finally be realised under the Presidency of Barack Obama. w
Niall Stokes, 29 Jan 2009
“We have also come to this hallowed spot,” Martin Luther King said, “to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.”
1963 is not an end but a beginning. So right he was. A change, we thought then, as the song had it, is gonna come. But the mire was deep and the pace of change grindingly slow at times, and inequality so ingrained in the systems and the language and the economics of the United States that it seemed often that it would never really happen, that equality – real equality – was, in truth, an impossible dream. No wonder there is a feeling now that we are opening a new chapter in history. No wonder that optimism is the order of the day.
What was started over 45 years ago might be said to have finally, genuinely come to fruition with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, towards the tail end of 2008. It has taken this long – half a lifetime since the great summer of those first civil rights marches in America – but finally we have a black President. Finally, we have the most tangible conceivable symbol of the fact that it is possible to defeat prejudice and to escape limitations, and to shape your own destiny irrespective of the colour of your skin.
That Obama is intelligent, a fine speaker, a man of ideas, a liberal who understands what feminism was and is about, who is connected to his children, as he was connected to his parents – all of these things add to the sense, which is so widespread at the moment not just in the United States but all over the world, that the dream about which Martin Luther King spoke is about be realised in the most amazing way imaginable.
I know that there is, that there has to be, an element of wishful thinking in all of this, that the dream simply cannot be matched by tawdry reality, that there is a danger that the horrible, mundane reality of politics and politicking will grind him and those close to him down until their hands are on the ground, their knees sore, their backs bent and their hearts broken. And yet the portents are powerful. The inauguration of Barack Obama takes place on January 20. The previous day is Martin Luther King Day, celebrating his birth on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, as recent tradition has it, on the third Monday of the month. It couldn’t have happened more fittingly, one symbolic day leading into the next.