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Dream Was Not About States Rights

By The Reverend Published: January 17, 2011

After teevee talker Glenn Beck and his friend Sarah Palin hosted a gathering for Tea Party members and other conservatives last summer at the same location that Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream speech", Reverend Al Sharpton made this comment....

"The folks who criticize our marches are now trying to march themselves," Sharpton said. "They may have the Mall, but we have the message. They may have the platform, but we have the dream. The dream was not states' rights."

Sharpton was right. M.L. King's dream was not about a nation made up of 50 states where each state would, or would not, extend rights to minorities as their individual state populations determined. Equality for blacks, ending legal discrimination against blacks in America wasn't just a state by state concern, it was a national concern.

And that is why the civil rights legislation of the 60's was written and passed by the federal government and not by the states individually.....unlike, say, our current state by state piecemeal approach to gay rights.

The cry of "states rights", the battle cry heard so often by the Tea Party movement today, was also declared by many southern states during, and after, equal rights legislation passed Congress in the 60's.

Segregationist, George Wallace, governor of Alabama and four time presidential candidate, stood on the side of "states rights", once saying....

"The President (John F. Kennedy) wants us to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-Communists who have instituted these demonstrations."

I think it's worth mentioning how themes haven't changed all that much in the last 50 years. At the same time, thankfully, much progress has been made.

The sharpness on Sharpton's point is found in the distinction drawn by him over the central theme of two opposing political elements. The one theme is very much a resistance-theme directed against actions done by the federal government. When citizens who do not want to participate in, or comply with, legislation passed into law by the federal government...those same citizens, more often than not, claim that they have the right to resist complying because the 10th amendment gives states the right to determine all laws not specifically spelled out in the Constitution.

That was George Wallace's claim in the 50's and 60's. That is the conservative Tea Party's claim today as seen in states attempting to nullify federal health care reform legislation passed by an overwhelming 60% to 40% margin in the U.S. Senate.

The immigration issue in America today has been met with similar resistance. Arizona decided that it had the right as a state to exceed the power granted exclusively to the federal government by the Constitution in the area of immigration. In a manner of speaking, Governor Jan Brewer became the modern George Wallace by insisting that no president, no Congress, could stop her state from dealing with immigration problems the way that they desired.

New Kentucky Republican Senator, Rand Paul, makes similar "states rights" claims. While defending the government side of the civil rights legislation of 1965, that is, that the federal government could not discriminate according to race....Paul disagrees that the federal government has the legitimate right to prohibit discrimination by private citizens. That, he says, is up to the individual states.

Now, the new Utah Senator, Republican Mike Lee has gone as far as to declare that....really.....child labor laws, laws which prevented the exploitation and abuse of children by profit-seekers.....are unconstitutional. It's the individual states, Lee claims, who have the exclusive right to fashion laws like that. Even though the Constitution clearly states....

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;

If "general welfare" does not include all children inside the U.S., then, words really don't have any meaning. Yet Utah's Tea Party darling senator, Mike Lee, makes that claim as he stands under the banner of those who stood against M.L.King....the claim of "states rights."

M.L. King's theme was one of non-violence, non-gun brandishing, non-inciting-to-riot. His message was one of peace and unity. His dream was of an America which treated all it's citizens....all of them....with equal respect according to law. King's message resonates today. It is not a message of each state going it's own way in some kind of lone-star-state, self-determination kind of way. Instead, King's theme was of one nation, one people...united to continue the Founder's quest to bring equal liberty and justice to all.



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