THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND

We live in a beautiful country. From the coves of Maine, to the pine woods of Georgia, a sea of cornfields in Iowa to the Redwood forests in California, our land, our country has been blessed and we have received many blessings to have America as our home.

Who are we now as a people? Where have we been and where are we going?

This coming August 28, will be the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the “I have a dream,” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. How far have we come towards fulfilling the dreams that he had for all Americans?

The 1964 Civil Rights law and the 1965, Voting Rights Act, went a long way towards sanctifying the inalienable right that all men are created equal. The former slave and the former slave holder can now sit down at the same lunch counter in brotherhood.

Dr.King might not have known it but that day almost 50 years ago, his speech helped to free us all and allowed all of God’s children to dream dreams that never were but are now possible.

The fact, that we now have an African American as President of the United States, President Barack Obama, may have indeed surprised him. One of the most important indelible historical imprints that the then Senator Obama’s election meant was that any child of color sees the very real possibility that anything is possible in America.

But recently are we not marching backwards into the past, back into a time when nullification and interposition occurred in states to deny some of their citizens the same rights guaranteed under the Constitution?

Back in the day, when I grew up in the South, literacy laws were common and so were poll taxes. By the sound of it, a literacy law sounds okay, but it’s intent was clear and that was the intent to deny others the right to vote. It was quite obvious that if you were not white they did not want you to vote, period.

Some of you may be too young to remember what it was like living in the South in the 1950’s and early 60’s. If you went to the train station in New Orleans, you saw signs saying whites only at drinking fountains. You would see a water fountain with the sign, colored. You never went to school with any students of color, and your church services were devoid of any people of color in attendance. The chains of slavery had been removed a hundred years before but invisible chains still existed, whereby separate did not mean equal, but rather it meant that some of our fellow citizens were treated as if slavery had never ceased.

The last thing we should want is to return to those days of racial bigotry and discrimination.

Now we see in state after state, that voter ID laws are being passed. What is the intent of these laws? On the surface requiring a form of ID appears benign and neutral. The claim is that we want only citizens to vote. But what will the result be?

In Indiana, during the 2008 campaign Nuns couldn’t vote in South Bend, because they did not have a driver’s license. They brought their passports but they still couldn’t vote.

Voting is so fundamental to a democracy and to our Republic, no citizen should ever be denied the ability to vote.

In the beginning days of our Republic, only those who owned property were allowed to vote. We have slowly evolved over time to where all citizens are allowed to vote. Are we going to purposefully make it more difficult for the poor, seniors and students to vote?

We hear rumblings from so-called conservatives, like Rand Paul, who might wish to challenge part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, requiring owners of businesses to allow all races to shop at their stores or rent a room for the night.

The claim that a property owner should have the freedom to deny service to anyone they want to is a tired refrain, from those awful days of racial discrimination.

Conservatives such as Mark Levin, put property rights and liberty on the same level of importance.

We will not be a nation of free people until we recognize once and for all that without equality before the law, and without equal rights under the Constitution being protected we will never be a nation where true freedom exists for all. You can not have freedom without equality.

The way things are headed, perhaps Dr. King would still not be able to sit at a lunch counter in a white owned restaurant. I believe it is a conservative tenet to preserve our rights and our laws that help to keep our society civil.

How are we doing in enhancing economic freedom? Our education is now being held to national standards, under a common corps curriculum and testing.

Not all people, or students in this case, fits neatly into one package. Education is more than just preparing a student for college. Where is the training for the new technologies and jobs for the future and where is the retraining for those who have lost their jobs to outsourcing?

I believe that Dr. King would be pleased with the progress we have made, and that he would be advocating improvement especially in the area of economic opportunity, not only for blacks but for all Americans.

As we reach the anniversary of that historic speech nearly 50 years ago, let us cherish his memory, and vow to work for continued progress towards a greater democracy, where more people vote, not less. And let us hope that we can work together towards building a stronger middle class with equal opportunities for all.

Many years ago, Woody Guthrie wrote the song “This land is your land,” during the heart of the depression. It was in a way an angry reply to the Irving Berlin song, “America the Beautiful.” Berlin was living in luxury in Manhatten, while Woodie, was riding the rails with a lot of other men out of work and out of luck.

We are a beautiful country, this land is our land, from sea to shining sea. Let us rejoice in that and be one land, one nation indivisible.

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