By Ariel Dorfman
So much has changed since that hot day in August 1963 when Martin Luther King delivered his famous words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A black family lives in the White House and official segregation is a thing of the past. Napalm no longer falls on the homes and people of Vietnam and the president of that country has just visited the United States in order to seek “a new relationship.”
A health-care law has been passed that guarantees medical services to many millions who, 50 years ago, were entirely outside the system. Gays were then hiding their sexuality everywhere — the Stonewall riots were six years away — and now the Supreme Court has recognized that same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. Only the year before, Rachel Carson had published her groundbreaking ecological classic Silent Spring, then one solitary book. Today, there is a vigorous movement in the land and across the Earth dedicated to stopping the extinction of our planet.
In 1963, nuclear destruction threatened our species every minute of the day and now, despite the proliferation of such weaponry to new nations, we do not feel that tomorrow is likely to bring 10,000 Hiroshimas raining down on humanity.
So much has changed — and yet so little.
The placards raised in last week’s commemorative march on Washington told exactly that story: calls for ending the drone wars in foreign lands; demands for jobs and equality; protests against mass incarceration, restrictions on the right to an abortion, cuts to education, assaults upon the workers of America, and the exploitation and persecution of immigrants; warnings about the state-by-state spread of voter suppression laws. And chants filling the air, rising above multiple images of Trayvon Martin, denouncing gun violence and clamoring for banks to be taxed. Challenges to us all to occupy every space available and return the country to the people.
Yes, so much has changed — and yet so little.
In my own life, as well.