This past Monday, I did something I never thought I would do: attend a liberal march. I normally try and avoid placing myself in situations in which I know everyone present will refuse to see me for any more than my political beliefs. The idea of the legitimacy of marches in general is dubious to me, because it seems like a way to avoid discussions in favor of being the loudest. However, in the name of curiosity and stepping out of my comfort zone, I woke up early on our day off and hopped on a bus to downtown San Antonio.
Before arriving at the march, I was both hopeful and concerned for the experience ahead. I was hopeful because all of my research on the march revealed that its primary purpose was simply to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am a fan of King’s and his messages of love and equality which stood against extreme racial injustices in the 1960s. My concern came from the recent tendency of events such as these to turn towards intersectional messages. Meaning, it would fight for every social justice cause imaginable while condemning those who don’t conform to that narrative, losing the message of King’s legacy in a slew of anger.
To my surprise, I was mostly pleased by what I saw. From my arrival to my departure, I didn’t encounter or observe any significant instances of anger or hate. Most everyone present seemed united in their efforts to keep King’s name alive and known. Save for a handful of people who were carrying small pride flags, the general mentality of the marchers was quite focused on that goal. Speakers along the march pathway played music and recordings of King’s famous speeches. Attitudes were positive, with both marchers and people standing along the streets having a generally good time. I was able to let my guard down and join the marchers.
Even though I enjoyed my experience, I am still critical of the march overall. While it did serve to commemorate King’s lasting legacy, the attempt to claim that his work has gone unfinished actually diminishes the weight of what he fought for in his time. In the 1960s and before, African-American people were seen as inferior according to the law, which kept the races segregated and divided America. Though racial inequality still exists today, the issues are nowhere near as violating as they were when Jim Crow laws were in place. The fact that no successor of King’s caliber has risen to prominence is proof enough of this.
Many of the values that King advocated for during the civil rights movement are actually quite aligned with modern conservative social values. King is famously known for his dream that people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” King’s view on humanity is in agreement with conservative ideals of racial colorblindness and focusing on people’s ideas rather than playing identity politics. This is one of the reasons he is still so relevant today, and why society can still learn from his wise words. Additionally, King recognized that many of the problems within African-American communities are self-perpetuated and could not be blamed on anyone else, and that these issues therefore could not be solved by anyone else. The MLK march seemed to demand that issues be solved while making no practical efforts toward this goal.
Conservatives often criticize liberals for existing inside of an “echo chamber”, wherein the only intellectual input they receive comes from their own shared perspectives. While conservatives certainly recognize the importance of intellectual diversity and civil debate, we are often too reluctant to engage in what we perceive to be liberal-centered experiences. It is only by allowing ourselves to experience the world from the other side that we can legitimately justify our own beliefs while understanding and respecting the reverse.