Let’s reflect on the state of the United States 60 years ago: Its realities, its problems, and its challenges. The country was divided. Divided on racial lines, divided politically, divided on issues of domestic, and global policies, and practices. Not only that, but the country also suffered from internal destruction, and violence was pervasive.
In 1964, we were months removed from the historic March on Washington, whose driving reason was jobs, justice and freedom; the country was months removed from having the president of the United States assassinated; the country was involved in a war in Vietnam and totally divided about our involvement.
In 1964, we were just a few months from the horrible bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan, in Birmingham Alabama, that killed four young, teenage Black girls, which was a statement of the level of hatred in our country. The state of civil and voting rights was unaddressed yet by the branches of our government (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed midyear; later the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act punctuated the successful victories of the civil rights movement). In 1964 three young men, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, two Black and one White, who were in Mississippi to support civil rights, were summarily killed in the dark of night for standing up for civil rights.
The success of civil rights legislation must be attributed to understanding that the impetus was entirely from the peoples’ commitment to demonstrate, fight, and die for the progress that was made. It was not top-down leadership. It must be understood that this legislation was vehemently fought, filibustered, and argued against, at the top, by the entire southern delegation of racist Democrats, called the “Dixiecrats”, and more. In other words, in 1964, the country was struggling to find its way.
Fast forward 60 years to 2024. What have we learned from the past? Unfortunately, we find the country is still struggling. We are still divided, divisive, stripping people of their rights. Hate abounds, as does violence. I add to the uniqueness of 2024, that we have reached a point where misinformation equals the truth, and the truth has to struggle against lies and pushbacks, including from the top.
So the biggest challenge that I propose to the readers of this column is to not repeat the past but improve upon it. In 1964, we reached points, too numerous to catalog, where the people — Black, White, all genders and religions — had enough and began from the bottom up to speak up, to vote strongly and act up against the factors that created the environment that was present.
Add to those scenarios from 1964 the raging wars now in the Middle East and Ukraine, mass shootings daily, pushbacks against the truth of climate change, reversals of the rights of women to control of their own bodies, hate and hate crimes rising, reversal of voting rights to the levels of 1964, the clear and present danger of the destruction of democracy and the failure of the legislative and judicial branches to operate properly and the heavy influence of corruptness, big money and, in the case of the Supreme Court, heavy political agendas.
The challenge for us, in 2024, is to learn from the past. Don’t be bystanders to our struggling country, a struggling state, a struggling community, but speak up and act from the bottom up. Vote. Just like in 1964, 2024 will be a pivotal and significant year to elect local, state, and federal leaders. Don’t sit this one out. The election results that we see on television could announce the failure of democracy — or they could signal the triumph of democracy. That’s what is at stake. Do your part and vote.