09/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Civil Rights and American Politics

The year was 1968, and I was there.

It was the year of worldwide declarations, rebellion, revolution, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. It was the year that spun workers' protests and rebellion throughout Europe, Mexico and the rest of the world. It was the year that black track and field medal winners asserted their unity with the Black Power Movement when they protested with raised fists on an awards stand at the Mexico City Olympics. Nineteen hundred sixty-eight was the year when the violence and the loss of life on both sides of the Vietnam War reached its highest levels. This was also the year that gave national and international recognition to the Black Panther Party and the Black Power Movement.

Seemingly, August 1968 in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention became the culminating time and place where all of the problems of the nation were to be placed on the table, discussed and solved.

Progress in this country has come about as a result of the three-prong approach: civil rights protest, legal action, and political struggle. All three share a definite and clear symbiotic relationship. The interdependence between these elements of the liberation struggle cannot be dismissed, overlooked or forgotten. This combination is what has brought us to this point, with the possibility of electing Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States. It was the combined struggles of many that have come together to make this August 28, 2008 possible.

In 1968, America's youth had adopted the three-prong approach that had served black America so well. Many of these young people had never participated in any organized protest before. However, now they thought that the time had come for them to not only ask for, but demand that this government live up to its promise and institute sensible solutions to the problems of poverty, equal rights, women's rights, international human rights and an end to the Vietnam War. These demands were forcibly expressed in the streets of downtown Chicago in August 1968.

Because the national political, legal, and social leadership did not properly address these issues in 1968, 40 years later, they have now come back to haunt us.

There is an eerie similarity between now and 1968: We find ourselves in an economic recession, a war in the Middle East that has no foreseeable end, the demand for equal justice and an entrenched leadership cadre that is determined to do everything in their power to maintain the status quo. At the same time, we can measure some progress when we closely examine the political progress that we have made in the last 40 years. While it is clear that we have not reached parity, we are reminded that we are not where we were in 1968.

Let us hope that Senator Obama understands the significance of all of those August 28ths that we now commemorate, from The March On Washington in 1965 to Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer's courageous stand at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964.

The only way we can fully know where we want to go is to fully know and appreciate where we are at this present time and from where it is that we have come. Thus, the real lesson of 1968 is that progress is not made by constantly starting anew every generation, but thoroughly examining the strategies and tactics of the past, abandoning those that did not work, retaining those that were useful and improving upon them.

In the words of Dr. King, "truth is not the mere recitation of facts, but the linking of facts."
I might add that these facts must be linked in a real and honest manner that demonstrates the connections. All of the connections.