Movement building and defending MLK’s dream

by Granate Sosnoff on 23rd August, 2013
New York Times photo

New York Times photo

Fifty years later, no amount of messaging can change the fact that we aren’t further along than we’d hoped in attaining civil and political rights or anything resembling racial equality in this country.

Martin Luther King had a dream, and before he spoke that day at the March on Washington, civil rights leaders gave speeches about economics, jobs and freedom in America. What we talk about most is MLK’s dream of racial equality – because it is inspiring and uplifting. It’s a message we can get behind, but something unattainable without economic and racial justice.

This is partly why, fifty years later, we are talking and dreaming about the same things.

Nowhere was this more evident recently than after the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman and the deep disappointment that swept the nation.

Fifty years later, Trayvon Martin was murdered because he was a young, African American male in an upscale neighborhood.

Questions about who are we in this country, and why are we so far from where we need to be with racial justice and equality have resurfaced. Even with a black president, numerous role models and achievers, we are deeply and economically divided with a huge number of brown and black people in prison and living in impoverished neighborhoods.

But, as always, there is hope. One bright star has emerged from the void of justice in Florida that day and that is the Dream Defenders, a new civil rights group organized by young people in Florida.

The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial evoked righteous anger, disappointment and a deep sense of injustice. The country seemed to take a deep breath and moment to grasp the blatant racism on a national stage.

And while some lashed out, the Dream Defenders got to work on an executable strategy to change things.

In Florida’s Capitol, the Dream Defenders began what would become a month-long sit-in. About 30-60 people were locked in each night and left to sleep on hard marble floors. Joined at times by Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond and other leaders and artists, they were also supported daily by a multiracial community. They held their own hearings when denied formal ones by the governor. They talked about what it was like to be racially profiled as young black people.

They got real and people responded.

The Dream Defenders are pushing for reforms under the umbrella of Trayvon’s Law to combat racial profiling and Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states where they exist. They have impressed many with their tenacity and commitment and made progress by pushing to get the Florida legislature to consent to hold hearings on these issues in the fall.

August 24th, Phillip Agnew, the executive director of the Dream Defenders, is slated to speak at the 50-year anniversary March on Washington. His organization may be the most authentic representation of that era and many will be listening to what he has to say. Our president is slated to speak too (Aug. 28). His presence represents the pinnacle of achievement and shows the limits of leadership in bringing about far-reaching change.

Why aren’t we further? It’s a question many ask every day.

The Dream Defenders represent a new hope. They are inspiring and reflect the brains and energy of young people – who so often bear the brunt of racist actions.

Like Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant in Oakland and so many others.

Events in the last months have worked as a catalyst to reinvigorate civil rights activism. Some organizations are going to rebuild their brand with the new energy.

The Dream Defenders look like they are going to build a new movement.

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