As I write, the 57th annual March on Washington is winding down. I remember the first one well. The iconic “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., still rings in my ears. King painted an image of the “Beloved Community” in his writing and speaking, a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings. According to the King Center, founded by Coretta Scott King, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
More than a half-century since King’s assassination, we are still far from realizing his notion of the Beloved Community.
Just recently we lost the last of the speakers from that historic first March on Washington, Rep. John Lewis, from Alabama. I had the privilege to meet Lewis at the opening of the national lynching memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, in April 2018. As I shook his hand, I looked at him closely, searching for the scars from the beatings he received in his lifelong struggle for racial justice and equality. Lewis, at 23, was the youngest of the speakers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that first March on Washington in 1963. While overshadowed by King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Lewis’ words still resonate today.
Lewis is perhaps best remembered for his tireless work on voting rights. “One man, one vote!” he cried from the Lincoln Memorial. But on that day 57 years ago, Lewis also decried police brutality toward people of color. "We are tired. We are tired of being beat by policemen," Lewis said with defiance. "We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again, and then you holler, 'Be patient!' How long can we be patient? We want our freedom, and we want it now."
I wish I could have been in Washington that day. I wish I could have been in Washington for this year’s march.
Instead, I was part of a gathering of folks at the Duluth Civic Center in protest of the policies of the current administration and on the occasion of a campaign visit by Vice President Mike Pence. I expect John Lewis would have applauded us, insisting that all politics are local politics and that protest that is genuine and authentic is grassroots.
I was there because we are still a far cry from the Beloved Community, and, as I see it, it is our only way forward.
Instead, our administration in Washington is sowing seeds of discord. Rather than taking seriously the deep and profound social issues of inequity and racism, of bringing together all the various voices that need to be heard, we are bombarded with words of defiance, division, and derision. Civic leaders implore the president not to insert himself into local disturbances, fearing escalating violence.
Veteran civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said, "If we don't have the systematic reform that this moment in America is crying out for, then we are going to continue to see hashtag after hashtag, protest after protest, and cities burning all across America."
John Lewis insisted, "Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Unfortunately, I see a lot of trouble in our immediate future. And it is necessary, perhaps now more than ever.
The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.