Wanted: “I Have a Dream” Vision for the Women’s Movement

So many images from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrated on August 28, remain as stirring for me today as they were on that hot, steamy day in 1963:

  • the wall-to-wall procession of buses stretching along the New Jersey Turnpike, each decked with a banner broadcasting that its destination, like ours, was the March;

  • the hundreds of black folks lining the sidewalks of New York Avenue, waving white handkerchiefs and cheering as our buses drove toward the Washington Monument;

  • the astonishing three hundred thousand people, 75% black and 25% white, covering every inch of the Mall and holding signs demanding “freedom now”;

  • the children wading in the Reflecting Pool and the elderly women, dressed in their Sunday best, using pamphlets to fan themselves in the summer heat; and

  • Dr. King’s booming, emotion-filled voice electrifying the crowd with each refrain of “I Have a Dream.”

I’ve also marched on Washington for women’s rights, so many times in fact that I’ve lost count.

But none of those marches had the impact on me or remains as vivid for me as the 1963 civil rights march.  I’ve been mulling over why that’s so and I think I’ve hit upon the answer.

Dr. King painted a moral vision of the kind of country that he wanted America to be:  “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” I and millions of others were – and still are – moved and inspired by his dream.

What was missing for me in the women’s rights marches was an equally vibrant and stirring vision of what our country would be like if women truly enjoyed equal treatment, equal opportunity, and equal impact in every aspect of American life.

For example, I’d like to hear a dream about the difference it would make if at least half of our nation’s policymakers were women.  Would there be less concern with acquiring power for its own sake and more concern with using power to produce social good?  Would our government start investing as much in improving the quality of  human life, through things like topnotch universal health care and first-rate early childhood education, as it spends on building our country’s military might?

If Hillary Clinton runs for President in 2016, and I certainly hope she does, I’d like to see a great national debate that’s framed not in terms of how a woman President would be as good as a man (of course she would) but rather in terms of what our country would gain by having a leader whose style of governing and policies were shaped by feminine values, experiences, and sensibilities.

I want to see a moral vision of true equality and justice for all, where – as Take the Lead’s mission says – women take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors of American life.

About the Author

Susan Weiss Grosshas spent over 40 years strengthening social justice groups so that their people and programs succeed. Her special love is coaching women to realize their full leadership potential. Among the groups she’s assisted are the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Innocence Project, and Human Rights Watch. Susan has written numerous publications on leading and managing organizations, includingSeven Turning Points: Leading through Pivotal Transitions in Organizational Life. (For more information on Susan and her book, go toLinkedIn,Management Assistance, andAmazon.)