Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and New American Dreams
By Ras H. Siddiqui


Iowa and the politics of change have been in the newspaper headlines recently as the first caucus of the 2008 US Presidential elections energized our nation on January 3rd. All the candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, have been somewhat interesting, but the Clinton-Obama quest for the Democratic Party nomination has certainly captivated us in a special way recently. 

On the one hand we could potentially have our first woman President, Senator Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, and on the other we have Senator Barack Obama, the best chance yet for someone from within the African-American community to get the nomination. Both at present are working hard on their campaigns. And in a way, not one but both are dreaming Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s dream of empowering the disadvantaged. Either a black man or a woman could be the main occupant of the White House next year if they are able to overcome other contenders and the Republican competition.    

Before proceeding further, it would be important to ask if young people in America today see Senator Barack Obama as a potential black President or Senator Hillary Clinton as a woman President.  Older people may choose to see through such antiquated lenses, but the 18-to-25-year old American voters that I talked with in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area are not swayed by issues such as Senator Obama’s “color” or that Senator Clinton is a female. For many of us Californians, these issues have taken a back seat to issues such as the economy.   

Sincerity of the candidates along with their vision for America ’s future is becoming far more important than race and gender today.  And whether it is the Iowa win for Obama or the New Hampshire one for Clinton, the battle for votes between the two is going to be won by the one who does a better job communicating his or her message.  

This is neither an attempt to minimize the historically sad experience and suffering of black people in America nor to ignore the struggle for female equality in this country as we believe that the process is still ongoing. But in a way they both point us to the issue of civil rights and a movement led by a determined few and one man in particular.

For people of my generation, the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been pivotal. In his message of hope and pursuit of equality, Dr. King focused on the black experience in America.  Today, other ethnic groups and women continue to find wisdom and strength from his efforts. It is because of icons like Dr. King that the minorities in America have found the will to say “no” to injustice. His non-violent movement led to laws to protect us against discrimination regardless of skin color, age, national origin, religion, gender or orientation.

On January 21st this year, many (but unfortunately not all) people in America  enjoyed a holiday to celebrate the January 15th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Concurrently, the Presidential primaries will also continue. Republicans will be looking for a win over the Democrats in November, and both parties will certainly try to attract the minority vote often by invoking Dr. King’s name to get it.

But from one not running for office, or endorsing any party or candidate here, this short writing is about acknowledging Dr. King’s wonderful work from an immigrant-citizen’s perspective during a time when democracy is being practiced. Without the struggle that Dr. King led and died for, many of us “New Americans” would not have the rights we enjoy today. He is in our hearts as we too dream the American dream. And this is just another attempt to add another “Thank you” to the millions already said.   


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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