The election of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States, should make us reflect upon the movement for civil rights and dignity for all peoples, which began before Martin Luther King, Jr., took ahold of it and will end long after Barack Hussein Obama’s service as the 44th president. In the long view of history, political and cultural ideas move across continents and over generations. Mohandas Ghandi forged a vision of non-violent civil protest against British occupation of India during the first half of the 20th century. The ultimate success of the movement in attaining Indian self- determination and independence gave international legitimacy and power to his ideas.
In this way, Ghandi influenced the next generation of leaders worldwide. King studied and took up the cause of civil disobedience as a tool in advancing civil rights for African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s in the south. King’s message of civil rights was supported by the American Constitution. Nonetheless it was his non-violent methods that diffused fear of change and gained sympathy of not just idealists and activists, but average Americans and their political leadership.
While problems of race and class in America remain, Obama’s presidential election was not expressly about race. His message was inclusive, claiming common ground between those in the middle class regardless of demographic differences. Obama has widened the vision of equality to include economic fairness and of justice to mean government free of corruption and special interests.
Obama’s time in office is just beginning, but his movement represents ideas whose time has come. His leadership, charisma and oratory inspire participation in civic life and a renewed effort to solve problems.
And for all that, a younger generation will take from his example and seek understandings of and solutions to other conflicts now and in the future. With this in mind, I wonder not so much what Obama can do to bring peace to Israel and Palestine as what others will do with the spirit of inclusive leadership, independence of thought and fair judgment.