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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

The reality and promise of change

Bryant Lewis, of Holtsville, chants as a crowd

Bryant Lewis, of Holtsville, chants as a crowd protests police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd along N. Ocean Avenue in Farmingville on Thursday. What will the large and persistent protests in American streets lead that other major events have not? Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

You look in amazement at what’s happening in the streets of America and around the world and you wonder whether this finally is the moment, and you think back to when you were a boy, a 12-year-old in 1968, looking in amazement at what was happening in the streets of America and around the world and how you wondered about that moment, and you think of all the decades that followed and what exactly changed and you find the war raging once again in your mind.

And you see the crowds in the streets and the things people are saying and the new tone of their words and you want to believe it’s finally happening, and then you tell yourself, fool, you thought Rodney King was a moment, too, and fool, you thought the march in Charlottesville was a moment, and the Bible study church slaughter in Charleston, South Carolina, was a moment, and you cringe at all those other horrific moments that came and went.

And then you look back out at the streets at the people of all ages and colors returning day after day and night after night and you wonder, and then you remember all the other black men killed before George Floyd and all the other circumstances that cried for justice and demanded change and all the other moments that felt different, and you look at some members of Congress saying they can find common ground without being specific and that reminds you of rope-a-dopes from other times and other polarizing issues meant to run out the clock on change.

And then you think to yourself that you’ve always tried to read the tea leaves and sometimes you’ve been right, that you’ve always anticipated what approaches around the corner and sometimes there was something, and you feel the juices of hope stirring again. And then you remember how different this new world is in other ways, a world where there is no universally accepted truth, where lies masquerade as facts, where gaslighting is as common as breathing, where some leaders divide and some shrink, and you feel the shards of pessimism rising.

But you know that the only constant in life is change, and that sometimes it creeps in on kitten feet, and sometimes it comes with the swift stride of a thoroughbred, and sometimes it clambers with crunching mammoth steps. And you can feel the vibrations and you tell yourself, don’t get too excited, and then another domino falls.

And you see the NFL apologizing for not listening to players about systemic racism and the Jefferson Davis statue toppling to the ground in Richmond and others being felled around the world and TV cop shows being canceled and states making legislative changes and U.S. Soccer repealing its ban on kneeling during the anthem and chokeholds being banned and NASCAR barring Confederate flags at its races and people losing jobs for racially insensitive comments and posts and the now-inevitable renaming of military bases honoring Confederate generals and the Lady Antebellum country trio changing its name to Lady A and historical context and denouncement being added to “Gone with the Wind.”

And you see this cascade of dominoes and you wonder why it took so long, but of course you know why it took so long, and you flash back to your teen self, thrilling to the crash of synth, guitars and drums as you wail away about getting on your knees and praying that we don’t get fooled again.

And you say to yourself, no, not this time. This time’s for real. 

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.