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Reawakening the dream

Robert Alvarez | Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Last Wednesday, Aug. 28, was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream Speech”.
Unfortunately, in these 50 elapsing years, his dream has died.
I’m not merely stating that we haven’t realized his dream. That much is painfully obvious. It is hard for “little black boys and black girls” to “join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers” in Alabama when the average black American attends a school that is only 29 percent white, schools which typically receive less resources than schools where whites are the majority (Economic Policy Institute).
It is harder still to claim that “freedom is ringing” from “every mountainside” when more than 60 percent of the US prison population is an ethnic or racial minority and they make up only 40 percent of the total population (Bureau of Justice Statistics). It is easy to forget as well that Dr. King’s March on Washington was for jobs and a living wage as well as freedom, yet today wages have flatlined since the 1970s while production has doubled (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
No, Dr. King’s dream was never realized. But that was okay, as long as people continued to dream and act upon that dream. I’m saying that we, as a nation, have stopped dreaming.
When we dream, we create whole new worlds within the realms of our minds that are contrary to our everyday reality. This does not mean, however, that the dream cannot become reality. This is the mental leap that drives Dr. King’s oratory: That his dream is not yet reality, but only not yet. America simply needs to decide, “Yes, this is the reality that we want.” Once that affirmation is made, work can begin to realize that dream.
However, if one looks at modern America, one would see that we have stopped viewing reality as malleable. We are no longer a nation of idealism but a nation of “realism.” Somewhere in the past 50 years we have become convinced of some kind of invisible, external reality that binds us, that determines our path as a nation. We have become receptors of reality rather than creators of it. Perhaps this change has occurred because our reality just seems too big and beyond us for us to change. Or perhaps, more insidiously, we are comfortable with this reality. We are content with our bubble worlds and our bubble lives, as long as our bubbles are not popped to let unwanted reality creep in.
Our public discourse is indicative of this omnipresent and omnipotent reality. Far too often our public discourse alludes to “reality” or to “the way things are.” We have created so many sacred cows in society, whose values are assumed as self-evident, that not only is honest dialogue not possible, but there is literally nothing left that is not a third rail of politics, besides the renaming of another post office.
This dialogue is not dialogue at all, for dialogue is transformative by nature, but a reinforcement of the status quo. Rather, when we meet to discuss together where we have been and where we are going, it should always be with an ideal in mind. The ideal is first object of any dialogue along these lines. Without an ideal of “how things should be,” how will we ever know where to go?
We now need to have this discussion. We need to ask ourselves, “In what kind of world do we want to live?” then, “What is the government’s and our own role in achieving that world?” and finally, “What needs to change so our current reality becomes our dream?” But above all else, in this dialogue we need to be idealists. Not idealists in the demagogic sense which is a kind of narcissism, but idealists in the pursuit of truth, no matter the form or the source. Every American is a constitutive part of America and as such forms a constitutive part of our dialogue. Any vision for the future that leaves behind one of these parts is not worth pursuing.
Dreaming is what has defined America since its founding. The first settlers of our nation came to the “New World” for the precise reason that they had a dream of a world different from their old, and upon this new continent they found their canvas. To them, reality seemed eminently changeable. All they needed to do was make the radical break from their old reality – in their case a journey across the Atlantic – and decide to live in a new way. They had a dream. We have that same capacity, to make the radical break from our stifling reality and live in a new way. But first we have to begin dreaming.

Robert Alvarez is a a senior political science major living in Zahm House. He welcomes all dialogue on the
viewpoints he expresses. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.