Syed: MLK Reminds Us Change Comes Through Struggle

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Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history,” said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life we celebrate today. Even as the so-called “blue wave” of the 2018 midterm elections gives many people cause for renewed optimism, we must stay mindful of this distinction.

November’s elections saw unprecedented numbers of people of color, women, and community-based candidates gain office, both across the country and at home in Orange County. For many of us, dismayed by the hate, racism, and antidemocratic actions in our country’s government, these midterms signaled a turning of the tide. Yet while we do have cause for celebration, let’s remember that history is still in the making in Orange County.

The “new” Orange County remains within and under the “old” system. Old interests and new ideals stay at odds. Corporate interests continue to ignore community needs. And, the politics of changing demographics dominates the discourse.

Electoral wins are fleeting, partisan victories. We must ensure that we change them to enduring community victories. Changes in our political systems, changes in our economic structure, changes that outlast any one official or politician or administration.

Victories, that creates space for change, like the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. When the United States won the American Revolution they went from an abused colony of England to an independent nation. That is change. The Civil War determined the very nature of nation that we wanted it to become. That is change. The Women’s Suffrage Movement did not just earn women the right to vote but made them whole. That is change.

“Change,” says MLK, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

In every election cycle, established and aspiring politicians call on people to stand with them. And many people do. It is a good thing, but not merely enough. The time between each election cycle determines the difference between wins and victories, between the makers of history and those made by it.

Our mission now is not simply to write a new chapter in the old history book but rather a new story altogether in Orange County. And that is a history, we can claim: we will have made it, rather than made by it.

Shakeel Syed is the Executive Director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD).

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