The Obama campaign has already been characterized as evidence of the embodiment of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. However, Dr. King’s political vision did not remain in 1963. Rather, that moment, and that politically useful message, has been elevated as the climactic moment of the Civil Rights Movement that found its resolution in the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965 respectively. The imagery of a dream rooted in the “American Dream” firmly ties the values expressed in that speech to the soaring rhetorical themes of The Declaration of Independence. The mainstream discourse in the public sector and the private sector freezes August 28, 1963 as the dominant and really the only acceptable representation of Dr. King. The aspirations of African Americans are expected to culminate in the enforcement of the Civil Rights legislation. That Black people continue to agitate for rights upsets the apple cart. Calls for and the implementation of affirmative action policies, not especially radical solutions, have been used to perpetuate racialized hostilities. Calls for Black Power and self defense simply will not be tolerated. In short, the mainstream of America decided that the Civil Rights legislation of the mid 1960s and judicial opinion upholding and interpreting those laws should have been enough. Black people have nothing to be angry about but each other. The problems must be behavioral, never structural.
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”