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Be better

Fri, Aug 30th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Eric Leitzen

For those of you who don’t know how this “biz” works (and yes, I’m being sarcastic), I write these articles and submit them on the Wednesday before the paper goes out. This time around, that Wednesday happens to be the Twenty-Eighth of August, and with it being the year 2013, there has been much news and talking done about the significance of this day. Exactly 50 years ago, a man stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a famous speech about having a dream. You all know which one, especially if you’re anywhere near my age, where the name “Martin Luther King” was about as well known as your own parents after five years of primary school.

It’s not like there wasn’t a reason: Martin Luther King, Jr. was an incredible American and deserves to have his name remembered, and the sad circumstances of his death only adds to the legend. We have a contemporary of MLK serving in Congress right now, a Mr. John Lewis from Alabama, who was actually beaten for his beliefs in Civil Rights during the 1960s, and yet the name Martin Luther King still rings out above all others, partly because of the speech he gave 50 years before I sat down to write this.

Yes, I’m writing this the day it is due, in fact only a few hours before, but I have struggled with just how and why and where to pay tribute to this man and this speech as any good historian should do. Unfortunately, the fact that I have struggled with the what and why of this article uncovers a bigger problem, in that 50 years after that titanic struggle for Civil Rights I’m still not exactly sure what I can and cannot write here that won’t anger someone somewhere for some reason… and that is a little troubling.

They marched on Washington and gave those speeches 50 years ago so I wouldn’t have to worry about saying this or that about so and so or a certain community and readying my shield for some kind of counterattack. One of my college professors rode buses down in Alabama, in full view of horrific violence and danger so I wouldn’t have to sit here and stare at a computer monitor for days asking myself “Can I really send THIS article to them? Nah, it’s too controversial.” Talking about these same topics a half-century later shouldn’t be controversial anymore. John Lewis took a beating so it wouldn’t be. Martin Luther King died so it wouldn’t be. So why is it that we haven’t gotten better yet?

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about certain Amendments. The First and Second get a lot of screen time on the Talking Head Networks, and occasionally you’ll have someone cite the Tenth in the defense of “States’ Rights,” and even lately the Fourteenth has come up after the Supreme Court’s recent Voting Rights ruling, along with the Fourth in discussions of Mannings and Snowdens. My personal favorite, however (and if having a personal favorite Constitutional Amendment doesn’t make me the Alpha Nerd, I don’t know what will), is the Ninth Amendment, passed in the original Bill of Rights and a mere one sentence long. In essence, it says that yes, you have the right to this and that, because this is a free country, but also remember that you cannot use that right to, and I quote, “deny or disparage” any rights held by other people.

So, by the time you read this, the anniversary will have already passed, but that does not mean the message or legacy of Reverend King needs to be forgotten. Please, in the next generation or two, can we turn this country into a country that follows the Ninth Amendment, and a country where I don’t have to agonize over just exactly what to say when it comes to talking about the freedoms of certain sections of the population? I really shouldn’t have to couch my words and rely on euphemisms 50 years after the “I Have A Dream” speech when I’m talking about the content of that exact speech, not after how far we’ve come.

So please, take it upon yourself one by one to do just one little thing to do right by Dr. King and Mr. Lewis and all the generations of patriots not yet known for their struggles and bravery.

Be better.

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