Michael Wilson argues that the March For Freedom did not end on 28 August 1963
30 years ago, on afternoon of 28 August 1963, Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave a speech that changed the world. Although only 1579 words long, the point at which most modern politicians have just concluded their introduction, this one speech changed the world. In the tense and oppressive social mood of the time, it gave African-American activists a vision for the future. It struck directly into the hearts of people across America, made whites ashamed of their actions and willing to have a new start, and shook society to its roots.
In just 17 minutes, King influenced and informed generations and generations of people about racial equality and fairness. According to almost all scholars, the seventeen-minute speech is a masterpiece of rhetoric. But, its impact did not just stop then. Its message resounds through to the present day, and can be used as a platform from which to elevate ourselves to true equality, for all. Still, today, injustices are common in the world.
Look at Russia, where even the suspicion that you are gay earns you a government-approved beating, and sometimes death. Look at the Middle East, where girls like Malala get shot, and sometimes killed, just because they want an education.
Yes, I Have a Dream may be old in solid form, but its spirit, its hope, and indeed its dream continue, and evolve. President Obama, in his speech to mark the 30th anniversary, said “it is on the change through honest toil to advance that the goals of 50 years have fallen most short, for while there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half century ago… inequality has steadily risen over the decades.” He could not have cut to the issue in a clearer fashion. We have succeeded in a lot of ways, but while we focus our attention on a small goal, inequality exploits the gap in our focus to burst into our houses, our schools, our governments, and our health service. And, if we do not stem the tide, we will be drowned.
Governments of the United Kingdom and the world need to be bold. They need to lead the way in the fight for equality, and not pause because it is too arduous a task, too thin a hope, or too fragile a dream. They need to break through the barriers that are continually placed in our way, and make it a primary objective to build and sustain a better world. A world in which all are free, in which opportunities are equal, and in which a young woman in the Middle East and a gay couple in Russia can walk down the street without the fear of being murdered for their ideals and their identity.
We have reached a turning point now. With the atrocities occurring throughout the world, with the American Voting Rights Act of 1965 being butchered, and with the finger of a world too frightened of change resting on the trigger, now is the time to act. Now is the time to end discrimination against those who love. Now is the time to guarantee a right to an education for all. Now is the time to put an end to racial profiling. Now is the time for the citizens of the world to lay those first building blocks together, and reap the fruits of equality for the rest of their time.
I Have a Dream, and the march of which it was a part, is not a complete blueprint for the future, but it is a foundation from which we can build. It speaks not only to African-Americans, but to anyone crushed under the boot of oppression, desperately gasping for a breath of freedom. It speaks to LGBT people, to women, and indeed to anyone who has a dream of a better and more just life for the citizens of the world. The march for jobs and equality may have ended on 28 August 1983, but the March for Freedom is eternal.
Michael is a PPE Student at the University of Stirling. He sits on the boards of organisations such as NUS, Labour Students, and the Young European Movement, and is an active member of the Labour Party.