Saturday, November 06, 2004

just remember

The last Southern schools to desegregate did so in the past fifteen years.

There are people alive in this country who remember when abortion was illegal.

Most people wouldn't know now, if you asked, what the word miscegenation means, yet it was still illegal in 16 states as late as 1967, and the last state to repeal its miscegenation law (Alabama) did so in 2000.

Women didn't have the vote in every state in this country until 1920.

The Stonewall Raid, the first time a group of gay people stood up against oppression (in this case, abusive police) and widely understood as the birth of the gay rights movement, took place in 1969.

Title IX, which ensures equal funding for young female and male athletes in school programs, was passed in 1972.

I could go on like this, but the point is that we need to not panic, and keep an eye on the long term. Many of the freedoms we take for granted are actually quite new, and society is changing faster than human flexibility will sometimes allow.

I've said it before, I'll say it again; there will be a time when we look back at these years and wonder why it was so difficult to imagine gay people marrying the way we now marvel at how blacks and whites were once prohibited from marrying. There will be a time when all women and men have the right to choose what happens to their bodies. There will be a time when the sovereignty of every individual is recognized and honored.

Maybe not in our lifetimes, but that's a chance we have to take. People like Dr. King and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harvey Milk didn't know whether they would see true and lasting change, but that didn't stop them from getting out of bed in the morning. Every movement for change has its setbacks, but if you look at where we are now, compared to where we were a century--fifty years--even just ten years ago--the larger pattern reveals a slow swell of social evolution towards a more just and humane society.

History will vindicate every person who sighs now and puts their shoulder back to the wheel. I know it's exhausting. I know it's disheartening. But there has been real change, and the fact that we need to fight to defend it doesn't invalidate all the work the generations before us put in.