It is fifty years since these speeches were delivered.
With the kind of legislation being passed right now in this and other states I see racial prejudice arising again. It goes under other names such as “illegal immigrants” and “the 47%” but it is racist at its root. I don’t think there’s much difference between Sheriff Arpaio of Phoenix and “Bull” Conner of Birmingham, Alabama. Some are trying to undo the Voting Rights Act and in our state the governor will probably sign onto the end of the Racial Justice Act.
This morning’s T-N reports that the defense budget bill includes barring the closure of any domestic military base including Gitmo. It disallows further nuclear weapon reductions. In general it continues the blank check for the Pentagon. Still under debate is an issue involving sexual assaults and how they will be handled within the system of military justice (those under military authority are under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and do not have the same rights the rest of us have). Listening to Kennedy’s speech in 1963 I cannot help but feel that here too we are going backward.
In June, 1963, when these two speeches were delivered I had just graduated from high school and was filled with idealism. JFK was then a ray of light in a very dark world. I am fully aware of his weaknesses and mistakes, but he was a true leader for this country, praising what is good and calling for repairing what was wrong. I see very little of that today from either party. Obama is probably the most eloquent President we’ve had since JFK but there is some distance between what he says and does.
It is up to those of us who are not in and of the government to work nonviolently for change.