In August of 1963 I was in Provincetown on Massachusetts' Cape Cod, with my wife and two young daughters, and my wife's family. I was transitioning from my judicial clerkship to my new job teaching constitutional law at the University of Maryland. Like many I heard the call and decided I had to join the August 28 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
I left my family in Provincetown and flew the small Provincetown Airlines puddle hopper to Boston Logan Airport. From there I flew to D.C. National (now Reagan) Airport and made my way to my brother's house. I do not remember how I got to the National Mall on August 28, but I do remember the crowd, which was the biggest I had ever been in, and of course I remember the uplifting speeches.
The March on Washington was an exhilarating and transformative event. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" stands with the Lincoln's Gettysburg and Second Inaugural addresses, Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address, and John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address.
The March accelerated the ending of Jim Crow segregation; it was necessary to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Housing Rights Act of 1968. (I have little doubt that it also helped bring ending apartheid in South Africa.)
Eventually, the 1963 March on Washington and what it spawned led to the election and reelection of our first African American President -- a transitional event in our history and its freight of slavery and the Civil War.
I enthusiastically supported and campaigned for Barak Obama's election and reelection as president. I attended his first inauguration filled with hope and joy. I remain enthusiastic about him, America and the future. Perhaps it is because America gave refuge to my grandparents when they fled oppression in Eastern Europe over a century ago, and to my late wife and her parents when they fled the Nazis nearly 75 years ago. Perhaps it is because I see progress where others see only reaction.
There is much I admire about President Obama -- passing universal health care; taking on the selfish escalation in the costs of higher education; changing his mind and coming out for marriage equality, and ending "don't ask; don't tell" in the military; readjusting the playing field back toward fairness to workers and their rights; protecting women's health; advancing the nation's conversation about race and racism; and seeing to the economic health of the country, just to name some.
I would prefer that he moved faster -- nominating federal judges; pressing his prosecutors to take on white collar criminals; trying harder to close Guantanamo prison. I would prefer that our country joined others and dealt decisively with tyrants like Assad and his regime's war crimes, and with the Egyptian military and their coup d'état. I would prefer for the president to have started the public discussion of domestic intelligence gathering and the FISA court without the goad of two callow "whistle-blowers" who may have done more harm than good.
Yes, a president and his administration do not have infinite resources to spend on infinite issues and problems. Yes, President Obama inherited an economic mess and an unnecessary costly war. Yes, like other private citizens, I do not know the details of national security threats and much else about such threats. Yes, the Tea Party hampered -- Congress, and the other Republican members they frighten with loss of office, have exacerbated "Inside the Parkway" gridlock. Yes, the bully pulpit is not what it was in years past, due to today's instant communications by sound-bites. And yes, the president has been more aggressive in pressing a liberal agenda as he moves toward the traditional "lame duck" years of his second term.
President Obama, as you consider how actively to pursue your progressive agenda, remember that the 1963 March on Washington took place despite initial trepidation by President Kennedy and others. In his April 16, 1963 "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," responding to moderate clergy who urged going slow in the quest for African American equality, King forcefully responded no, urging that: "We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom." Press on Mr. President; please press on.