I (Still) Have A Dream

I’m hardly an expert on the current or even the historic state of equal rights, but I have been around enough to know how important and impactful an action that took place 60 years ago today was.  As THE GUARDIAN’s David Smith recalled:

The original March on Washington took place on 28 August 1963, a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed the freedom of enslaved people in southern states. It was the biggest demonstration that Washington had ever seen.

As we now know, different kinds of demonstrations occur in Washington.  Smith added the thoughts of someone who was there then, and contrasted it to more recent events:

“If that had been us that attacked the Capitol a couple of years ago, they would have shot us,” says Ted Dean, 85, from Flomaton, Alabama. “Think about it. They would have shot us.”

Dean is contrasting the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place peacefully 60 years ago on Monday, with the deadly insurrection by a mob of Donald Trump supporters at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

The march, he recalls, was a diverse mix of Black and white, young and old. “It was wall to wall people. You name it: they were there. No fears about that and everybody got along beautiful. I wanted to be a part of it because it was in my DNA.”

I’ve previously written about my own experiences at attempting to believe that I’m as evolved and non-racist as anyone else, feelings that were ignited during the emotionally charged summer of 2020, when the protests and riots that arose in reaction to what happened to George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and others were occuring literally blocks from my new home, one that was as diverse as any living situation I had ever been in.  And because someone I had extremely strong feelings for was clearly one who emphathized with these protesters, I tried to join in–besides, in the midst of the early days of the pandemic, little else was available to do anyhow.

The reaction my presence triggered in many people who chose to address me was nothing like the harmony that Dean recalled.   “Y’all don’t know our truth”, I heard.  Again, I’ve previously written that these people didn’t know mine, one that included needing a police escort to walk me home from Hebrew School after dark so that I wouldn’t be beaten up by my classmates–all of whom were white, by the way.  I stood out because of the amount of skin I had, not necessarily the pigmentation.  But the result was the same–being made to feel less than by people who can’t accept the fact you look different.

On Saturday, a more muted and smaller turnout converged on Washington for the actual anniversary celebration, one that was tinged with the reality check that for as far as those who were in attendance in 1963 thought we had come, as the Associated Press reported, we apparently haven’t been all that successful after all:

We have made progress, over the last 60 years, since Dr. King led the March on Washington,” said Alphonso David, president and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum. “Have we reached the mountaintop? Not by a long shot.”  For some, the contrasts between the size of the original demonstration and the more modest turnout Saturday were bittersweet. “I often look back and look over to the reflection pool and the Washington Monument and I see a quarter of a million people 60 years ago and just a trickling now,” said Marsha Dean Phelts of Amelia Island, Florida. “It was more fired up then. But the things we were asking for and needing, we still need them today.

Emphasis on the word WE.  I wasn’t quite old enough to know the significance of the March on Washington, but I certainly was when Dr. King was assassinated four and half years later.  That year, our school was integrated via forced busing for the first time.  We were given WE SHALL OVERCOME as an assignment for Glee Club, and we sang it as powerfully and as emotionally as anyone in my Hebrew School intoned their Shabbat prayers.  And, luckily for me, no punches for thrown,

So I’d like to think I was given better training and upbringing that the kind of “fine people” that now converge on Washington.  And I know I’ve been better trained than the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination, that 6’3″, 215 pound hunk, and as Tom Boggioni of RAW STORY reported yesterday, I’m probably more evolved than the challenger who last week scored points with people seeking an alternative, including a few close to me now:

During a chaotic interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Republican presidential nomination contender Vivek Ramaswamy accused host Dana Bash of not being “intellectually honest” as she grilled him for equating Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) — who is black — with “the modern grand wizards of the modern KKK.”

Asking if he wanted to walk back his inflammatory comments, he refused and what ensued was a back and forth where he refused to stop talking as she attempted to follow up on what he was saying.  “How on earth is she a modern Grand Wizard of that kind of an organization?” she pressed.   “Dana, let’s be honest — let’s be intellectually honest and get to the heart of what this debate ought to be about,” he fired back. “There is a world view that says that the remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination; that if you’re black or brown, you have to have a particular point of view. That’s from Ayanna Pressley and Ibram X. Kendi, the people I quoted in my speech.”

But his parting shot, I’m almost ashamed to admit, rang truer than I would have otherwise hoped:

” (T)he point I’m highlighting is that even when the people even in good spirit — we all agree the KKK was a horrible organization that is a toxic stain on our nation’s history. So given that we start from that point of agreement, now who actually sounds like that organization today? The people who are calling for more racial discrimination on the basis of color?”

That’s what I experienced when I tried my best to support my friend.  That’s what I experience when I’m quietly told by experienced HR experts that many large companies are given quotas for diversity hired and are rewarded for hitting benchmarks based on tick marks.  When I see local Los Angeles politicians stunting for the establishment of reparations for the families of those impacted by historical wrongs such as Bruce’s Beach, where families may receive as much as $250,000 each to atone for the sins of their ancestors, and I compare it to where my bank account sits this morning, it’s difficult for me to empathetic.

I hate the fact that anything someone like Vivek Ramaswamy says is something that I relate to.  He is still far away from being a significant national player, but at 38, and with the relative momentum he picked up in front of 13 million actual people (not scrollers on X) by all but eviscerating Ron DeSantis’ feeble campaign with a far stronger debate performance, he’s likely to be a political factor going forward.   And according to recent polls, he’s resonating with younger undecided voters at a level where Bernie Sanders began to in 2016.

I know Sanders remembers, as do I, a famous ad campaign for a popular product that is still remembered fondly today as a way to find common ground between diverse New Yorkers as the city was evolving demographically in the 1960s and early 1970s.   As Steven Coles of FONTS IN USE recalled:

Doyle Dane Ber(n)bach’s famous campaign for Levy’s Jewish Rye bread. The copywriting was by Judy Protas …

“We had a local bread, real Jewish bread, that was sold widely in Brooklyn to Jewish people,” she told The New York Times in 1979. “What we wanted to do was enlarge its public acceptance. Since New York is so mixed ethnically, we decided to spread the good word that way.”

… The Levy’s campaign, conceived by Mr. Bernbach and the art director William Taubin, featured photographs of conspicuously non-Jewish New Yorkers — a black boy, Asian and Native American men and a robed choirboy among them — blissfully contemplating a slice of the company’s rye.

The ads were aimed primarily at the metropolitan area, where, exploiting a singular New York delivery system, they appeared chiefly in the subways. Long part of the day-to-day texture of the city, they were so striking that they drew a national following and were sold individually as posters.

I knew plenty of people in my neighborhood who had moved in during this demographic change, at a time when plenty of delis were still around,  They knew that brand because it was literally staring them in the face as they stood in overcrowded subway cars enduring countless delays and stoppages.  They loved that bread, as I did.

You can still buy that brand today, though according to Everymarket.com it’ll set you back $31.99 for a one-pound loaf.  That’s a bit beyond my price tolerance.  As I write this, the $.99 isn’t even a possibility.

But I’m sure someone like Ramaswamy can afford a loaf or two.  And I’m fairly sure that person I inexplicably still have strong feelings for could as well.

You wanna know what my dream is these days?  To break bread (I’d even settle for a cheaper brand) with one or both of them in the hopes of getting a real job lead, or at least a chance to express those strong feelings politically or otherwise.

Perhaps not quite as ambitious a dream as Rev. Dr. King had 60 years ago.  But equally as elusive.

Until next time…


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