The following speech was delivered at this week’s ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Fifty years ago a Rabbi shared these steps with Dr. King and began his remarks by saying, “I speak to you as an American Jew.”
My name is Alan van Capelle, and today I speak to you as an American Jew. I represent the Jewish Civil Rights Group Bend the Arc, and the more than thirty organizations collectively called the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.
The vision Dr. King offered us fifty years ago wasn’t only a dream. It was a call for equality but it was also a demand for justice.
We may be closer to legal equality but we are far, far, far from justice. We are far from justice when young black men are stopped and frisked and disrespected on the streets of New York City.
We are far from justice when students carry the burden of loans.
We are far from justice when 11 million immigrants work every single day without protections or a pathway to citizenship.
We are far from justice when a gay, lesbian, or transgender person can be fired from their job simply for being who they are.
We are far from justice when we accept the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and we allow American children to go to bed hungry.
Yes, the moral arc of the universe is long and it does in fact bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because of people like Bayard Rustin, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. It bends because of you and me. We make the arc bend. And for many of us, it’s not bending fast enough.
Every year Jews around the world recall how Moses led his people out of slavery and towards the Promised Land. But the desert came first.
Jews believe that the only way to the Promised Land is through the desert. We are taught that “there is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”
Fifty years after Dr. King delivered his speech from these very steps we are still a people wandering through the desert. But don’t be discouraged. Because I’m not.
When I look around this Mall, at all of you – so diverse, so impassioned, so bonded together by shared values, hopes, and dreams – then I can hear in your voices the echo of Dr. King, and I know that the edge of the desert is near, and the promised land within sight.
This week, the Forward’s web site was overwhelmed by traffic from the social news site Reddit, which featured my piece about the Newtown school rampage, “Wrestling With the Details of Noah Pozner’s Killing.” In the post, I outlined and explained the Forward’s decision to publish Noah’s mother’s description of her son’s body during our December 23 interview.
“[Noah’s] jaw was blown away,” Veronique Pozner told me. “I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized.”
Why, a month after the killings, does the story of a Newtown mother’s insistence on sharing the brutality of her son’s death continue to resonate so strongly? The answer might be found in the Reddit thread, which attracted thousands of comments. Several users compared Veronique Pozner to Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African-American boy whose 1955 murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement. Originally from Chicago, Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi where he was accused of flirting with a white female shopkeeper.
The Washington Post has a useful news analysis that looks at the New York State gay marriage decision and what it says about the state of liberalism. The headline says it all: “The rise of zombie liberalism: Half-dead, half-alive. “
The basic premise isn’t terribly new, but it’s too often forgotten: the liberalism of “Expanding civil rights and the retreat of discrimination on race, gender and now sexual orientation” is doing great. But “Income inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties, anti-tax orthodoxy is ascendant on the right, the safety net is under attack, and labor unions are barely hanging on.”
If the country is becoming more liberal on accepting minority rights, why is the left having such a hard time making progress on its bread-and-butter issues of class and economics, which were once its central, animating concerns?
It’s a critical question. While focusing on the civil rights of minorities, liberals and Democrats have lost their voice on the economic rights of the majority. Minority rights are a noble cause, but majorities win elections.
The writer, Post national reporter Alec McGillis, walks through a variety of explanations without taking a stand. One candidate: Americans’ native self-reliance, which favors individual rights but recoils at communal responsibility. Another candidate: the identity politics of the 1970s, which led to a decline of class in the attention of liberals — as a result of which “they were just less attentive to issues of economics,” in the words of John Russo, co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University.
Sobering thoughts indeed, until you come to this conversation-stopper:
Of course, New Deal-style economic liberals note that polls show even greater public support for liberal planks such as raising taxes on the wealthy than for gay marriage, which recently crept above 50 percent in Gallup’s survey. According to Gallup, 59 percent of Americans say upper-income people pay too little in taxes, and 67 percent say corporations pay too little — which helps explain President Obama’s singling out of tax breaks for billionaires at his press conference this past week. The success of the liberal agenda, from this perspective, is less about where public opinion is than where the money is.
Gay rights proponents in New York had the backing of some very wealthy Wall Street donors who normally support Republican causes but who gave $1 million for the same-sex marriage push, motivated by their libertarian leanings and, in some cases, by the fact that members of their families are gay. When they are not cutting checks for gay marriage, these men are leading the way in opposing higher taxes on the very wealthy and fighting tougher financial regulations, with resources far beyond what organized labor can muster…
We could stop there. But McGillis gets into some identity-group politics that complicates the issue in some very interesting ways: