Welcome to Perspectives, a blog of thoughts, commentary and observations ranging from autistic adolescents to intimate portraits of urban communities.

 

What accounts for the differences between the “March on Washington” fifty years ago this month, which produced significant changes in American life, and the current protests in Cairo, which have produced a bloodbath? It is tempting to point to the evolution of western democracy. And there is truth in that. But the 1960s – America’s equivalent of the “Arab Spring” – witnessed far more violence than we like to remember, including urban riots that brought tanks onto the streets of our cities and a bloody response to protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention that was later declared a “police riot.” I think two factors are critical to understanding the differences: the commitment to nonviolence and the appeal for inclusion. Faced with intimidation, beatings and murder, civil-rights protesters were trained to “stand their ground,” unarmed, in one of the most remarkable displays of mass courage in history, demonstrating the power of moral suasion to effect lasting change. And civil-rights leaders appealed, not to tribal differences, but to our common humanity. In his speech before the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King invoked the two most important documents in American history – the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address – to demand that we live up to the ideals we espouse: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” King’s dream was the American dream – for all people, in all our diversity, bound together as one community. This is “American exceptionalism” at its best.

Three

Trail of Tears