We want to believe that we are a progressive society. We tend to maintain that some of our greatest social and political challenges have reached a solution. The 2008 presidential election signals a significant moment in the political history of the United States; a woman and a black candidate lead the Democratic polls. It is promising to see candidates who challenge the expectation of white male dominance. However, it is important to recognize that while we have seen progress, some issues, though improved, elude resolution.
Martin Luther King Day recognizes the contributions of an essential civil rights leader. Along with many other leaders of his era, King ignited the movement towards racial equality in this country. His actions reverberate in the present. On many counts, we have achieved success. Equality exists on the legal level, but does not necessarily translate into reality. While the Supreme Court mandates the integration of schools, a form of segregation continues to affect the public schools system—especially in urban areas, where educational resources are often scarce for children from minority backgrounds. A system that continuously exists to the disadvantage of minority groups cannot qualify as true progress.
Race continues to be an important political issue, especially in the upcoming election, as Hillary Clinton has recently accused Barack Obama of using race to his advantage. All three leading Democratic candidates have lobbied to win the black voters of South Carolina, confirming the importance of racial politics. The Southern vote remains crucial to this election. Racial relations remain tense in the South. A recent article in this week’s Carletonian shows the presence of white supremacists in Louisiana, who protest the celebration of Martin Luther King Day and call for the punishment of the Jena 6 African American students. Such a demonstration represents an alarming stagnation in race relations. This is disturbingly reminiscent of racial politics in the 1960’s. As much as we would like to believe that such a viewpoint doesn’t exist in American society—it does.
This week has also marked the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the bill that dramatically changed our nation and granted women the important right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Women have faced the dangers of illegal abortions for centuries. The fact that there exists a sanitary and safe procedure represents a concern for the well being of all women. Before Roe vs. Wade, abortion existed; but it was at the cost of women’s lives.
Pro-choice does not equal pro-abortion. Abortion is not a matter of birth control—it is a choice women make in the most difficult situations. How does anyone decide to have a child? There are countless factors that preempt such a life changing decision. Obviously, financial and security concerns play a crucial role. So to us, it seems logical that the individual woman should have the choice in the matter—not the government. There should be no legal judgment on people who exercise their right of choice.
To us, giving choice to women in a democratic society seems simple. Yet the issues of pro-choice v. pro-life dominate the political scene. As a nation, we still have not reached a philosophical conclusion regarding the issue, which threatens the democratic ability of women to choose how to live their lives. Instead, the country remains divided.
The anniversaries of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the passing of Roe vs. Wade highlight extremely controversial and important issues in American society. Particularly in light of the historical milestones of this week, we must celebrate the achievements and the progress that our country has made; but we must also recognize that there is much to be done.
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