Appel: The Dream
(Host) January 15th marked the 84th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, when we observe a national holiday in his memory, commentator and former director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Robert Appel, is thinking about how close we've come to realizing the vision King described so vividly in his famous I Have A Dream speech.
(Appel) This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's groundbreaking address to 250,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In his unique and dramatic fashion, Dr. King famously stated that ;I have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream.; He spoke of his dream that his ;four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judge by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.;
If Dr. King were alive today, as an 84 year old statesman, what would be his assessment of our progress toward that goal? Our nation has largely abandoned our own form of apartheid. Discrimination is prohibited by law but, of course, it still occurs on a routine basis in all segments of our society.
Nearly half of all persons under a death sentence in the United States are African-American. In Vermont, 1 in 10 inmates are Black - despite Vermont being the second whitest state in the Union.
The financial crash and the recession that followed hit people of color harder, given their communities were targeted by unscrupulous predatory lenders issuing sub-prime mortgages. The wealth of persons holding these mortgages was wiped out by the bursting of the housing bubble.
Of all of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps the most important was the 1965 Voters Rights Act. The primary battlefront was in the segregated south, and it had long term, far reaching effects.Property ownership, literacy tests and other registration barriers continued to threaten full and unfettered voter participation. For example, poll taxes were not eliminated in Vermont until the early 1970s. Today, the strategies have changed but still considerable efforts were made in November to suppress the minority vote in all regions. Nonetheless, President Obama was returned to office suggesting that the ultimate glass ceiling has been decisively smashed.
Westill face many challenges, including passing comprehensive immigration legislation that will no longer make Mexican dairy workers and the Vermont farmers who employ them hide in the shadows as well as fundamental criminal justice reform that will reduce the incarceration (and disenfranchisement) of large numbers of people of color.
Dr.King identified three evils inextricably linked - racism, poverty and militarism. These evils continue to threaten our very existence through the ravages of wars around the planet and the on-going environmental degradation spawned by greed. He would acknowledge that until our collective dream is fully realized, difficult conversations about race, war and poverty need to continue. Today marks the second inauguration of our first president of African descent making it an opportune moment for all people of conscience to recommit to striving towards that goal.