50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in my opinion one of the most significant events in American history. For those who don’t know, the March was part of the larger movement pushing for the expansion of civil rights for African-Americans, who even 100 years after the end of slavery continued to suffer from poverty and discriminatory treatment. With between two and three hundred thousand attendees, it remains to this day one of the largest political rallies in US history and was the occasion for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The March is significant to me because it represents so much of what I love about my country. I’m not a big “rah rah America!” guy, but I do believe that the American ideal (which is not the same as the America that we experience on a daily basis) represents some great things, namely democracy and equality of opportunity. It’s easy to roll your eyes at that, and I’m often among the first to point out all of the exceptions and shortcomings, but that’s only because I believe my country is capable of better.

The March is one of the best instantiations of that. When I say “democracy”, I don’t just or even primarily mean citizens voting for their leaders. I mean a sense of collective responsibility for the problems that our country faces, the idea that when we see something wrong, it’s on us to fix it. The civil rights movement generally and the March specifically represent the best of America in this sense, a great upswelling of many different types of people (an estimated 20-25% of the participants in the March were white) in support of the change that they saw to be necessary.

Dr. King in particular is an inspiring figure for me because of his ability to see, believe in, and appeal to the best of America despite being confronted with the worst of it. When you think about the kind of discipline and self-restraint that is required to stand your ground, but without resorting to violence, while you were spat upon, sworn at, punched, kicked, and worse, you realize that it requires tremendous strength of character. And while King was truly a remarkable human being, it’s notable that thousands of everyday people demonstrated similar strength of character under the same circumstances.

It feels more than a little crass to talk about what the civil rights movement has to teach us about poker, but this is a poker blog, so what the hell. If Dr. King can continue to love segregationists even as they threaten his family and his life, then you can be polite about correcting dealer errors.  If demonstrators can sit impassively at a Woolwoth’s lunch counter while they are threatened and assaulted, then you can avoid the temptation to retaliate when your opponents are rude to you. And if children can brave an angry mob on their way to school, then you can take a deep breath and relax the next time you get bad beat.

The attitude of “it’s just so frustrating, I can’t (or shouldn’t have to) control my emotions” is ridiculous. You’ll find that it’s better for your game as well. So be nice to each other.

Recommended Reading/Listening

From Dr. King:

Letter From a Birmingham Jail
I Have a Dream (video)
I Have Been to the Mountaintop (video)

From this blog:

Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas
Brown v Board Monument
The Warmth of Other Suns Book Review
Savage Inequalities Book Review
Trayvon Martin and the Burden of Black Parents

With regard to poker:

Thinking Poker Podcast Episode 39 with Guest Carlos Welch

4 thoughts on “50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

  1. This man has had such an impact on my life because I took the initiative to actually learn what he had to teach beyond the sound bites they give us in school. I have heard and read countless hours of speeches, sermons, and books that he wrote. I have mixed feeling about this speech and the whole idea of how passive he has been made out to be. He was less like Mother Teresa and more like George Washington in that he was an aggressive strategist. A general who didn’t use guns. Too many of us are passive today. If you want something, you have to go get it like he did. He didn’t wait for somebody else to do it for him and neither should we.

    I am particularly fond of his fight against poverty which he was just implementing before he was assassinated. I think that this is the root cause of a lot of problems and I hope to use poker, amongst other things, as a vehicle to pick up where he left off and teach people how to have a comfortable living wage without resorting to crime.

    • Hi Carlos, thanks for the comment. When you say you have mixed feelings about this speech, do you mean that you think it makes King seem passive? It doesn’t seem that way to me. It’s taking place, after all, in the context of one of the largest political rallies in history, one that leads directly to some of the most momentous civil rights legislation in history. “We’ve come to cash this check.” And he warns against “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

      I was mostly underwhelmed by Obama’s speech, but I felt like he was more true to King’s anti-poverty legacy than to King’s legacy of nonviolence, which of course he couldn’t very well invoke the latter given that he’s about to go drop bombs on Syria. But to the extent that his speech had much of a point to it, it was that the unbridled success of a few dark-skinned individuals (most notably himself) doesn’t obviate the need to continue working to raise up the rest.

      • I have no issue with the actual speech. My issue is how the culture has highlighted it to the point that most people think this was all he was about. I know this is a completely different thing, but it is kind of like when people point to one of a rapper’s songs and labels them a gangsta rapper. I just think a lot of people who are not as proactive about doing their own research have missed out on his teachings because black history commercials have effectively turned him into a symbolic figurehead of the civil rights movement and figment of ancient history as opposed to someone who could teach us how to value each other’s lives in 2013.

  2. Andrew,
    Based on the poker lesson you drew, maybe King’s lesson on “Loving Your Enemies” should be highlighted. It is more religious than I normally care to indulge, but it has a great message, and it shows King’s powerful intellect (something I find lacking in the activists of today).
    King said in a different speech “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is during these tough times King says we should love our enemies (and applies to your poker examples).

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