As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, those who recognize that the status quo is never fully satisfactory for most of us would do well to analyze the essential elements of progressive systems change. At the very core of Dr. King’s message is a message of hope. After all, when people lose all hope, they give up trying to make progress, or worse yet, engage in desperate acts of terror, because they have no hope of making progress without the use of such horrific means.
In his first campaign for President, Barack Obama captivated a majority of Americans with his message of hope. However, those who listened carefully to that message also understood that hope alone does not achieve progressive systems change. Indeed, he started using the theme of hope in his 2004 Senate campaign.
In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?
Indeed, in his victory speech after his Presidential re-election in 2012, President Obama made clear that:
I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
To those who felt downtrodden by the struggle for justice, Martin Luther King made clear:
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
As I have written previously, in addition to hope, the following elements are critical to advancing systems change:
- Litigation when necessary, and
Most of all, using all of these elements strategically and effectively will capitalize on the power of hope to effect progressive systems change.