The dream that all are created equal
Standing in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington DC last May was confronting and liberating. Having just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, his words remain hauntingly relevant today in a world of conflict, xenophobia and intolerance.
“I say to you today, my friends . . . even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream!” That dream was simple in its content but remains a massive challenge 50 years later . . . that all people are created equal and will be treated equally.
So what’s the substance of this dream? All people are created equal . . . no matter what race, religion, sexual preference, what strata of society, income, age, gender or status . . . all people are created equal and equally deserve opportunities to achieve in society, to access education, housing, medical care, safe asylum, employment and a future free of fear and discrimination.
Amazing, as it may be, that dream has only partly been achieved in the richest countries in the world like the USA, the UK, Europe and Australia, and remains a massive challenge in may other countries around the world. And given the election of a hard right-wing Liberal Coalition in Australia, that dream will be systematically attacked by neo-liberal small government policies that structurally lock people out and increase the gap between those who are doing well (the middle class consumers) and those who are struggling.
The veteran civil rights leader the Rev Jesses Jackson, currently in Britain to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, has identified how successive British governments have failed to stamp out racial discrimination, leaving racial minorities “free but locked out” of power and a fair society. He states “for people to finally get free, there must be some plan to close the gap. Here there is no plan to close the gap” (The Guardian, Saturday 7 September 2013 p. 29).
Jackson also dismissed claims that enough people can succeed on their own merit without additional measures to overcome historical disadvantage. This ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ ideology combined with flawed ‘trickle down’ assumptions are simply ridiculous when generational disadvantage is faced not just by white folks, but even more so for those seeking asylum who come from refugee camps with nothing but their own lives! Opening up access for those who are denied equality requires both government action and structural change as Jackson suggests: “there must be a structure to let you in, just as there was a structure to lock you out”.
Australia has just made a big decision, based on what kind of dream? In the land of the long-weekend, the bar-be-cue, the maxi plasma screen, the self-satisfied consumption, Australia could be perceived to be an island of ignorance whose only dream is self-interest. But that is not the case. A vast number of Australians, and others around the world have a different dream . . . that all are created equal and that all should equally have access to power, equally have access to resources, equally have access to justice and equally have the right to be treated as fully human.
Martin Luther King’s dream should jolt us awake. His dream – despite his assassination and those who seek to kill the dream – continues to disrupt the strategies of the discriminators, the intolerant, the ignorant, the racists and the powerful who rule only for their own interests.
Now is the time for disrupters to emerge and combine their efforts in Australia and all over the world to keep the dream alive and create an architecture of equality, justice and access to full human rights for all!