An American Dream: In Progress

Paul Evans

King’s vision echoes still: a Republic founded upon law cannot long survive if some citizens are provided greater access to legal remedy than other citizens. There is no more important duty for any, for every, American than defense of universal justice.

This week the President of the United States will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

President Obama will be surrounded by men and women gathered to celebrate the progress made – the challenges ahead – of our ongoing march towards equality.

This past week the US Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs (General) Eric Shinseki visited Portland to celebrate the critical WWII contributions of the Nisei soldiers in an event at the Oregon Historical Society.

Shinseki – a Japanese-American himself – served as the first Asian-American US Military service chief as the Chief of Staff for the US Army (before he was dismissed for speaking too much truth to power in the run-up to the Iraq War).

During WWII the intrepid Nisei fought the tyranny of Hitler with amazing grace and heroic valor – even as a large number of their own families were confined to the camps of the West.

Shinseki is heir to that legacy: in his life the past, present, and future of racial opportunity can be known. The US Military was an agent of social change – then as it is now.

Earlier in his trip Secretary Shinseki addressed his recent policy change that allowed the burial of Nancy Lynchild the same sex partner of USAF Veteran Linda Campbell (of Portland) as well as some of the challenges associated with reform of the US Department of VA benefits procedures.

It was not accident that Shinseki tied these together. For in America service to community and country is not determined through ethnicity, gender, or skin color; honorable service is determined through demonstrated character – undaunted commitment to the larger cause.

Over the coming weeks the US Attorney General Eric Holder will orchestrate legal remedies for the recent overreach of states’ rights on voter identification/suppression laws.

Holder – like Robert Kennedy and Nicolas Katzenbach before him – has determined to use the office in defense of access to justice for all Americans. Despite his defense of unpopular policies associated with national security, Holder is a stalwart advocate for the rights of all Americans under the law.

King’s vision echoes still: a Republic founded upon law cannot long survive if some citizens are provided greater access to legal remedy than other citizens. There is no more important duty for any, for every, American than defense of universal justice.

And soon, though not soon enough for some of her most ardent supporters, Hillary Clinton will inform the US of her decision to seek or not seek the US Presidency in her own right.

Just imagine what King might have thought were he able to live in our America today. We have significantly expanded the vote – and the roster for whom to vote for – in every community throughout our nation.

Looking back over the past fifty years we can be proud of the achievements made. There has been significant, undeniable – universal progress made in regards to our approach to civil rights.

And though a fair evaluation of our past must illustrate our stumbles as well as our accomplishments – the march towards a more equitable and just America continues still.

The US is a land of freedom, liberty, and opportunity. It is a land of pioneers and the sons and daughters of pioneers.

Pioneers that tamed the Wilderness; pioneers that transformed an agrarian society into the mightiest of industrial powers; and pioneers that took steps both large and small that blazed a trail for a multicultural America.

Barack Obama, Eric Shinseki, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, and all that follow in their steps are pioneers – blazing new trails and making progress easier for all that follow.

We are a nation of people that struggle with balancing our needs with our wants: we a people that seek justice – in fits and start – as we become uncomfortable with the consequences of our selfishness.

Unfortunately, there are barriers for equality, jobs, and justice for large cohorts within our national community.

As a nation we incarcerate minorities at different rates. We to often illegally profile upon cultural, ethnic, and racial traits. And too often fail to remember that our ideals are more valuable than our comfort - or our toys.

The US is far from realizing the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and the courageous men and women that led the struggles for Civil Rights in the 1950s and 60s.

But we are better, stronger than we were – and we are a nation that has an inspired capability to learn from past mistakes. It is critical that all Americans pause this week to consider the realities of our circumstance.

We have not achieved the dream, but we have achieved much. We must remind ourselves and our posterity that progressive change – though hard and slow – is possible within the structures and systems of our Republic.

We must accept the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement as a case study in evolutionary democracy: succeeding generations manifest changed conditions.

Not that long ago Barack Obama commented upon the world his children will know: a time when gender, race, and other previous obstacles to high office became less relevant.

Together we will realize a multicultural society because each, every day people choose to expand their horizons. We will recast our America through the billion interactions taking place today, tomorrow, and the next day (and the next).

Over time we will realize the dream of King because our nation took purposeful steps to change the conditions of past circumstances – because over time we elevated the values of love over hate, of inclusion over segregation.

We have a long way to go. There will be bumps along the way that will frustrate us. Those that oppose equality will become more desperate as they recognize the futility of their labors. We must not lose heart – or focus.

In the end, we will build a More Perfect Union because Americans are more interested in what could be, then what was.

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