UPDATE: Once more, it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the day on which we honor the memory of a great man who has proved so inspiring to so many of us. I, too, have a dream and I pray each day for the day we can each can celebrate our diversity and our equality throughout this country and the world.
I originally posted this one year ago today [i.e., January 2008] on my old Yahoo 360 blog, while the wound from transgender people being excluded from ENDA by HRC and Barney Frank was very raw (it still is).
Today is the day in the United States that we celebrate the dream of equality and freedom that the Rev. Martin Luther, Jr. inspired in this country and, I hope, in the world. There is not much that any of us can add to his inspiring words, so I simply invite all of you to take 17 1/2 minutes of your day to listen to his words and to share his dream. (The video and the direct link to YouTube are below.) As you do so, you might want to note as I did, the following words, which seem so appropriate today as we struggle for recognition of equal rights for all transgender people against the argument that we need to wait our turn, that incrementalism is the path to freedom and justice for us:
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” (Beginning @ 5:15 on the video below)
I followed up the next day with another post on Martin Luther King’s opposition to incrementalism and how he convinced LBJ that that was not the right approach:
As I noted yesterday, in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed applying “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” to the civil rights struggle of that time.
More information about Dr. King’s opposition to that strategy came out last night on Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS. During that program, Moyers recounted a previously unrevealed conversation between Dr. King and Lyndon Johnson that Moyers was privy to as a young presidential aide. (You can watch or read the transcript of this program here: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01182008/watch4.html.) Initially, LBJ tried to convince Dr. King to quell the demonstrations and other unrest that he and others were encouraging, in order to help Johnson convince the white supremacists in Congress to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In keeping with his words at the Lincoln Memorial, King refused, saying that “his people had already waited too long. He talked about the murders and lynchings, the churches set on fire, children brutalized, the law defied, men and women humiliated, their lives exhausted, their hearts broken.” After listening to King, Johnson changed his mind and told King to “keep doing what you’re doing, and make it possible for me to do the right thing.” King did as asked, LBJ used his legendary arm-twisting skills in the Senate and one of the most important pieces of legislation of the last century, and one that today provides the only glimmer of hope for protection against employment discrimination for most trans women and men in the U.S., was passed.
So, Lyndon Johnson insisted on doing what was right at the time, rather than what he thought was practical or pragmatic given the resistance he faced. As civil rights pioneer and U.S. House of Representatives member John Lewis said on the floor of the House during the ENDA debate last November , “It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Johnson, King and many others knew this in 1963 and 1964. Why is it that today so many people believe that this principle doesn’t apply to our own struggle for equal rights?
Today is still the time to do the right thing! Perhaps, with Barack Obama’s inauguration tomorrow as our next President, we will finally begin to achieve the civil rights, the human rights, that we all deserve.