I was born in 1960. John F. Kennedy was assassinated on my third birthday -- one of the earliest memories I have, my parents (Kennedy liberals if ever there were any) sorrowfully telling me that I'd have to be a brave little man and put up with the cancellation of my birthday party. My childhood was a jumble of confusing imagery of terrible war in some place I'd never see, and riots and killings at home. I had some firsthand experience of institutional racism, I knew what the riots were about. The idea that black people were treated as second-class citizens seemed utterly absurd to me on its face. But there seemed to be a notion floating around that progress toward justice was inevitable, that what we needed to do was simply put our backs to the collective wheel, and things would work out OK.
Ronald Reagan was elected within a few days of my 22nd birthday. I was even then too young to know the full implications of his rhetoric -- his declaration that liberalism was dead, that the notion that the government was a benign force for the common weal was outdated and extinct. I thought of this as just a swing of the pendulum, that it would swing back to the side of the good.
I just didn't know it would take 25 years. (And, for that matter, I don't know if the pendulum actually has swung back. This feels like a beginning, not an end.)
And I couldn't have known how much thoroughgoing, vile, clear-eyed, deliberate evil would have to be perpetrated by the opponents of the idea of benign government before people's eyes would be opened, and the agents repudiated.
This thing took my entire lifetime to happen. This cycle lasted nearly fifty years.
This is a very good day indeed.
As I was walkin' I saw a sign there
And that sign said, "No Tresspassin'"
But on the other side -- it didn't say nothin'!
Now that side was made for you and me!
(Did you know Woody Guthrie lifted that melody from an old black Pentecostalist hymn called "When the World's on Fire"? Well, now you do.)