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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Civil rights for whom?

In April of 1968, I was among those who were shocked by the news that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. It was just a few weeks before my high school graduation and I was preparing for a summer internship in which I would be working in various churches and inner city community centers. I'd no more than begun my internship when I was even more rocked by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June.

In the forty-plus years since, we've done a lot to idealize both of these great men, removing them from the gritty problems they attempted to solve. While Lyndon Johnson was soundly defeated in the New Hampshire primary by Poet/Senator Eugene McCarthy on the anti-Viet Nam War platform, LBJ had launched one of the world's most significant civil rights legislation efforts, which he called the "Great Society." It not only upheld laws on civil rights, but also public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, the environment, education, and his own war on poverty. In many ways, it was a shame that LBJ suffered from the escalated war in Viet Nam because he fostered such a positive environment for the advances in civil rights led by Dr. King and others.

To many of us, however, the issues were one and the same. Civil rights were not viewed as the exclusive province of black people. That would have been racist. We saw the involvement of the U.S. in Viet Nam as a violation of Vietnamese civil rights. We saw the need for an equal rights amendment to the constitution (still not ratified after 38 years!) as a requirement to establish equal rights for women. We saw the sudden influx of refugees from Southeast Asia as additional evidence that civil rights had to extend to everyone, and that everyone must be equal under the law.

Today, the issues have compounded rather than lessened. Anyone who proclaims themselves a supporter of civil rights in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. must recognize those rights for all people, regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, creed, or other differentiating characteristic. When we launch wars, hold prisoners without charge, search passengers in airports, or deny equality in marriage, inheritance, healthcare, and general welfare, we are violating civil rights. If we would honor Dr. King today, we would nationally and individually stop discriminating against people because they are different and embrace the diversity that makes our "Great Society" the ideal of the world.

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