Growth and progress could be this nation's reward for facing the challenge of our times with courage and a demand for equal justice. The American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the civil-rights movement of the 1960s were moments when the United States could have been torn from its very foundation, but a creative response to this turmoil helped move the nation forward.
At its best, non-violent protest is a strategically engineered crisis designed to wake up a sleeping nation, to educate and sensitize those who become awakened, and to ignite a sense of righteous indignation in people of goodwill to press for transformation. That's what the protests galvanized by the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and others are trying to accomplish.
Many Americans find themselves at a loss to understand the depth of the anger and frustration of the protestors. It might be worthwhile for them to read a speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered on April 14, 1967, at Stanford University. A colleague of mine in Congress reminded me of his words, and I find they ring as true today as they did almost 50 years ago.
In the speech, King describes what he calls the "other America," one of two starkly different American experiences that exist side-by-side. One people "experience the opportunity of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all its dimensions," and the other a "daily ugliness" that spoils the purest hopes of the young and old, leaving only "the fatigue of despair." The Brown and Garner cases themselves are not the only focus of the protestors' grievances, but they represent a glimpse of a different America most Americans have found it inconvenient to confront.