I'm reading the outstanding book, Nixonland, by Rob Perlstein. It's subtitle is "The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" and does a great job of providing the larger context for the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and, as the title says, the fracturing of America.
Sometimes I think with the lens of time, the stories of social justice become binary. There are the heroes. There are the villains. Things were wrong and through hardwork and courage, everything got better. While all of those things are true, the truth lived at that time probably didn't feel that obvious. In fact, in reading the accounts at the time, it seems even the most enlightened people had mixed feelings about the goals, how fast and how far to push, or what were the right things to do. Not everyone was onboard with the plan and the things that today seem obvious most certainly weren't so to those either in the trenches or in leadership.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but living in the here and now with decisions in front of us, I find courage has to come from something other than the desire to succeed. It has to be deeper than that.
As a result, I also think it's important not to forget the failures in history. The lesser known actions that were not that successful. And to realize the successes that came were from a series of small and larger actions, some successful, others not so much. It should be embraced that Dr. King and Gandhi took on fights that were not popular. In the case of Dr. King, his work in Chicago and his stand against Vietnam. In the case of Gandhi, his support for one India with both Muslims and Hindi.
The reason I think it's equally important to study and celebrate the fights that weren't successful is to serve as a gentle reminder that unpopular fights are equally if not more important than the popular ones to make progress. It should underscore yet again how important it is to keep going and keep trying, even if you don't succeed the first time. Sometimes it's hard to remember that only through the passing of time that something is actually viewed as a success.
The key is to keep fighting. It's not easy. But it's what separated those that have truly made a difference from everyone else and I find as much inspiration in the fights that failed than the ones which were successful. The key is to never give up.
The last speech of Martin Luther King represents to me a moment where, with everything against him, he chose to get out of bed with the flu and keep going. How much worse off we would be without these words when we are down or the fight seems too difficult.