Today The Work to Refresh The Dream Begins Anew

Paul Evans

The greatest tribute we can pay, the most important thing we can do today in honor of the sacrifice and suffering of King and all those that marched with him is to rekindle the flame of nonviolent action and reengage the levers of power for progress.

The bells rang. The speakers spoke. The celebrities did whatever it is that celebrities do.

The weeklong celebration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is now history. Across the nation hearts are warmer for the opportunity taken to remember struggles past and present; we are a better nation today because of the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement.

It was on the shadow of Lincoln that Martin Luther King Jr. reminded America of promises made and broken. He asked America to honor its promissory notes. King asked America to accept its obligations and reform our governance structures and systems.

It was on the Mall that day King asked Americans – all Americans – to work in common cause to revitalize a dream.

King inspired us with a dream of a society devoid of racial desegregation, a dream of collaborative peace and prosperity among all men and women regardless of color and race, and a dream that offered our posterity the promise of self-determination.

The dream echoes through time as a goalpost for our ideals. Though we have made undeniable progress, we have not realized the dream – yet.

Today, and the todays that follow are unique opportunities that will not, cannot come again. Each, every person in America has the power to change the course of history if we choose it; all of us are empowered to make at least our neighborhood a little better – a little safer – than it is right now.

Oregon in 2013 is a special place. It feels far removed from the “sweltering summer of discontent” that King described those five decades ago. We are not witness to the violence that accompanied the struggle for Civil Rights – violence committed in the name of segregation, separation, and racial purity.

Though we still must suffer organizations built upon sponsorship of hatred, many of these have been marginalized over the past few decades. White supremacists and homegrown terrorists are now operating in the shadows rather than in the open. Some hope to transform the debate over immigration reform into a racial schism for partisan and personal gain. But this may well be self-defeating as the faith community now struggles to push back the heat of hate with the light of charity and love.

In modern America we have become better at recognizing bigotry and racism; we have become less tolerant of those unable to participate in a multicultural society. We have our collection of idiots and opportunists, but we have embraced the vision of King’s Dream. And we are stronger because of our evolving sense of community.

In communities throughout Oregon we can celebrate a greater sense of inclusiveness. It is rare in public schools these days to find classrooms without diversity of some culture, ethnicity, or heritage. We are becoming more diverse and few institutions demonstrate this more clearly than our public schools and colleges.

However, even as the racial divide appears to be decreasing the divide between socioeconomic groups has accelerated exponentially. Make no mistake about it, there remain two separate States of Oregon – the place where invested fortune perpetuates wealth, and the place where opportunity is determined by access to failing schools, stagnant wages, and a general lack of security.

There is no question that racial challenges continue still. But the central issue of our time, the struggle for equality for our generation, is the socioeconomic dynamics of remaking the dream possible.

Before his assassination Dr. King transformed his approach to social change. Though keenly aware of racial bias and the ugliness of Jim Crow, King became focused upon the dynamics of poverty and the value of targeting the power of nonviolent action on transforming the socioeconomics of all in poverty: whatever color, gender, or orientation.

Though we forget the point, work – and the associative values that come with it – is a family value. When people have employment people have empowerment. The great tragedy of Vietnam is not just the loss of life involved in a war too few Americans understood; the great tragedy of Vietnam is that it robbed us of the possibilities of the “Great Society.”

And yet, that loss is not an excuse for our inaction today. Here in Oregon we still have the capabilities for meaningful, purposeful change. We have a history of innovation and progressive governance: it is time we reenergized our communities with what King termed, “the fierce urgency of now.”

Right now, Oregon is failing our communities of color. We are also failing our children. We are failing our environment. We are failing ourselves: we are better than this.

Since 1990 we have shifted the burden of public higher education from the state to the student. In our efforts to bolster and secure K-12 education, we have failed to develop responsible governance mechanisms as well as stable funding streams.

Governor Kitzhaber has begun implementing a strategy for P-20 in Oregon. This “Pre-Kindergarten” through college completion approach is an important evolution in our concepts of education, training, and workforce preparation.

This approach has the authority and funding for an honest experiment. And whatever the eventual outcome, it represents a rational, reasoned agenda for improvement. But it will likely fall victim to the fate of so many good ideas (ref: Quality Education Model) absent public buy-in and sustained resourcing.

Governor Kitzhaber has continued work on implementing major aspects of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). When implemented this web of services and systems may well provide Oregon with access to the greatest worker empowerment benefit, ever.

The portability of quality care is an accelerator for industry, innovation, and security for men and women dependent upon the stagnated wages associated with this new era of globalism.

And Governor Kitzhaber, with the help of leaders from both parties, is struggling with development of a sustainable retirement structure for public workers. He led the effort for reforms earlier this year, there is evidence suggesting he may call a Special Session to reform the reforms.

Whatever we may think of certain and/or specific facets of the proposals so far made public (on PERS), few can dispute the importance of an open discussion about the meaning of retirement, the long-term sustainability of traditional governance, and our shared understanding of public services.

While nobody knows what may have been had King lived a full life, I believe that had he lived he would have helped facilitate a national collaboration on the rightful role of government in lifting people from poverty.

I believe King would have advocated for affordable, excellent, public schools.

I believe King would have advocated for affordable, portable, quality health care.

I believe King would have advocated for clean air, land, and waters.

I believe King would have advocated for fair wages and secure retirement for all Americans: for the factory workers as well as the CEOs (now earning nearly 400 times the wages of the average factory employee).

And I believe King would have advocated for a revised understanding of our shared agenda for progress. King dreamed of an America where race mattered little; he died in the struggle for empowerment for all – not just the African-American community.

King understood that regardless of color, culture, ethnicity, gender, and race – poverty was the greatest barrier to all Americans seeking to realize our shared American Dreams.

The greatest tribute we can pay, the most important thing we can do today in honor of the sacrifice and suffering of King and all those that marched with him is to rekindle the flame of nonviolent action and reengage the levers of power for progress.

Fifty years has passed. Much has been accomplished, there are undeniable achievements that have made our world better, stronger than the day King inspired us. However, much more remains undone.

We may not be able to turn the course of our country, at least right now, but we can – and must – turn the course of our Oregon.

We must engage our government and the governed; we must fight for the tools that can facilitate men and women maximizing their potentials through work. We must empower those seeking a chance at fulfilling their dream.

And we must gather together from time to time and celebrate the heroics of works past and present – so that we may inspire works future.

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