On MLK and Obama

It’s hard to believe that we’re living through the most historic moment — at least the most positive historic moment, since 9/11 was pretty damn historic — in our lifetimes.  All my life we’ve celebrated the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., a man who stands as a symbol of the best impulses in all of us. But my whole life he’s always been just that — a symbol —  and there’s been little in the world in the way of an actualization of his dream.

Yes, there was the end of apartheid in South Africa and the various broken glass ceilings, racial and otherwise.  But a large portion of black America continues to live in poverty, black Americans are overrepresented in our prisons, and hate attacks still happen.  If that kind of institutional and cultural racism ever goes away, it won’t be in my lifetime.

But the election and inauguration of Barack Obama is happening in my lifetime.  Like others, I can’t say I ever thought this would happen in this country while I was around to see it.  There were too many people claiming that “the country isn’t ready yet,” too few people ready to forget about prejudice and just focus on whether or not this person is going to make things better for them.  In 2008, as we know, that happened, and tomorrow we’ll bear the fruit of the country’s courage.

I’m admittedly bummed that I won’t be in D.C. to witness it.  I contemplated coming with the wife and kid in tow, but
the sheer numbers of it all — more than 1.5 million visitors, relatively few portapotties, sub-zero temperatures — put the kibosh on that idea.  And I could have gone alone, attending a bunch of parties (including the HuffPost party… waaaa!) and seeing Barack become the 44th president with my own eyes.  But then I would have been alone, and since Arlo was born, there’s no such thing as an individual me anymore; I’m one-third of a family unit, and without Arlo there to witness this with his own forgetful little eyes, I wouldn’t feel free or happy to witness such an event on my own. 

In any case, MLK Day finally feels like a real holiday.



  1. As I put away groceries tonight, I listened to Rev. Joseph Lowery talk about this on All Things Considered; listening to this 87-year-old man’s joy, awe, and hope–and sadness at the absence of those he wishes could have been here to witness this–left me sitting on my kitchen floor in tears.

    I just went in search of the interview online; here it is: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99561314. You really should listen. It’s only 10 minutes, but it’s wonderful.

    “MLK finally feels like a real holiday.” Indeed.

  2. I was listening to NPR too, to that interview and to Terry Gross’ interview with John Lewis, whose voice alone puts a frog in my throat. To be all of those men and women and to see this happen now, I have no idea what must feel like.

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