What’s Changed in America? Then and Now

“And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I can remember April 4, 1968 as though it were yesterday. The war in Vietnam was raging and Americans watching the nightly news witnessed the destruction and devastation of the war as body bags filled with young Americans arrived home.

All across the land, the streets of American cities were filled with antiwar and civil rights protesters, demonstrating their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly. Thousands upon thousands of young people demanded an end to the status quo of American’s involvement in an unwinnable war and the systematic discrimination of a whole race of people.

The threat of nuclear war was ever present; America and its allies, and the Soviet Union and their allies, pointed weapons of mass destruction at each other. Social tensions grew as young Americans spread their wings in a wave of social upheaval never seen before in the history of the country.

Then And Now45 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered as he took his last breath on the balcony of a motel in Memphis TN, fighting for sanitation worker’s rights. As I reflect on the past, the similarities between what is going on in America today and what happened in the past, I find myself wondering if things will ever get better. It seems nothing has changed and America, once again, is at the crossroads of social upheaval. As many Americans find the coming changes too much for their conservative souls America is more divided today than at any time post the US Civil War.

Today, war is still raging and the threat of nuclear war is as ever present as it was back in the 1968. This week, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, threatened South Korea and the USA with nuclear war and, just like the other misguided communist dictators of the past, this current version should not be taken lightly; Kim Jong Un‘s ego could be the cause of a world war.

Today, social issues fuel the headlines and airwaves with many of the past issues raising their head, from Jim Crow laws, to the constitutional guaranties and freedoms of all Americans.

The gun control issues of 1968 are the same issues as those of today except it’s like guns on steroids. Instead of hand gun legislation, America is deciding if weapons that are used in wars by the military should be readily available and guaranteed by the second amendment to the US Constitution.

The NRA today is still spewing the same rhetoric – “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” — that they did almost a half century before, and many are still buying their line of hysterical fear-ridden propaganda.

Since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination more Americans have died by gun violence than in all the wars America has fought since the beginning of the republic combined, yet politicians do not see the explosion of weapons across America as anything more than people expressing their rights. They do not see the death and destruction left behind by an uncontrolled gun industry that places profits over the safety of all Americans.

A couple of weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy stood on the flatbed of a truck with a bullhorn in the center of the Brooklyn neighborhood where I was raised and asked the citizens of NYC to rally around his support for an end to the everlasting war in Vietnam and a healing of racial tensions that were caused by the death of an American hero and leader.

There is an element in this country that believes they are more entitled, that they are more American and that they are the only legitimate heirs to the American constitution. They believed that by killing a King and a Kennedy the homogenization of the American people would cease.

Fortunately for America, those people are an ever-growing minority and, just maybe as their numbers diminish, America can move away from the issues of April 4, 1968 and into the 21st century as one nation with one goal of freedom, peace and equality for all.