Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Huge crowds fill the National Mall hours before the inauguration of Barack Obama

Watching the Obamarama now taking place on the American media - All Obama All The Time - I was reminded of something I knew, but had forgotten: change is possible. It took a CNN retrospective of the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s to remind me.

Invited to the inaugural festivities are 7 of the "Little Rock Nine", the first black students to attend a white school anywhere in the South. That was in 1957, and required President Eisenhower to send in the 101st Airborn Division of the U.S. Army to enforce the court ordered integration. (Arkansas Governor Orvil Faubus had previously ordered the 10,000 member Arkansas National Guard onto the streets to keep the black children out of the schools.) The year Obama was born, 1961, it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry in 7 states (including Virginia and North Carolina, which voted for Obama in November.) His parents would have been arrested had they met at the University of Mississippi instead of the University of Hawaii. Prior to 1964 Civil Rights Act, blacks could not eat at the same lunch counters as whites even in Washington D.C. - even in Federal Government Buildings. Prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act blacks where effectively barred from voting throughout the South.

When Martin Luther King made his "I have a dream speech" in 1963, he was not the universally acclaimed hero he is today. The FBI had him under surveillance as dangerous radical. Congress had not passed either of the monumental Acts that formally dismantled Jim Crow. And King only dared dream (at least out loud), that black and white kids could play together, not that a black man could be President.

Yet 45 years later, here we are.

As Judaism teaches us: miracles are possible. God does - occasionally - intervene in history. As Levinas puts it, to deny miracles is to deny the revolutionary possibility.

I (we?) need to remind ourselves of this fact as we look at the seemingly hopeless situation in Israel/Palestine. Forty years from now there could be peace and justice. But as the civil rights movement proved, it requires a determined struggle, patience, and a seemingly naive faith in the possibility of change even in the face of long odds.

It also required brave and principled outside intervention. Can Obama play Eisenhower, to the Israeli and Palestinian Faubus's ?


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