Brothers and sisters, a moment of silence in honor of our friends, Paul and Sheila Wellstone. Please take the hand of the person next to you. Let us honor a senator of principle, and passion and purpose. He was inclusive, a bridge-builder. Let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of peace and justice that Paul always fought for.
My brothers and sisters, Dr. King’s heart would be lifted to see so many drum majors for justice gathered here today in the name of nonviolent resistance. Thank you for taking your place today in the long, historic chain of struggle.
Dr. King would be especially happy to see so many young people, energizing a new peace movement in America. People often say the young are our future; but I beg to differ. The young are our present.
When two Jewish students and one black college student went to Mississippi in 1964 for Freedom Summer, they paid the highest price–but Mississippi moved. Goodman, Schwerner, Chaney. Let them serve as a model for our movement. When a small group of African-American youths sat down at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, and refused to leave, Americans were transfixed. The soul of America was transformed.
When Dr. King led the Montgomery bus boycott, he was only 26. The whole world changed. And when I first marched with Martin, at Selma in 1965, I was only 23 and he was still only 36. Dr. King taught me that times of crisis were also times of opportunity–that politics could be redefined, society turned upside down, if young people acted on behalf of the moral center.
When young Americans move, the world moves.
Without vision, the people perish.
Without vision, we end up with division.
Two years ago, George W. Bush campaigned on the idea that he would bring back unity, bipartisanship and a change in tone to our national politics. Now he campaigns on division, Republican partisanship and a change in regime in Iraq.
I say we should finish the fight we’re already in, before we start taking on another invasion and occupation. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.
When we act out of fear, rather than hope, we get bitter rather than better.
That’s true for America. Acting from fear, we make the world nervous.
It’s also true for us. Acting from fear, instead of hope, we create division and make our movement weaker.
As we assemble our coalition of conscience, we must not let the diseases we fight against infect our movement.
Say no to racism. But don’t stop there.
Say no to sexism. Don’t stop there.
Say no to anti-Semitism, to anti-Muslimism. Say no to homophobia.
Our movement must reflect the healing we seek.
We know the dangers if we go to war. Death, waste, suffering, hatred, blowback.
“Collateral damage” to innocent Iraqi children. To our own soldiers, many of them minorities and poor. To the American economy, with a war’s $2 billion cost.
There is a time to every season under heaven. A time for war–World War II, which saved us from fascism; the Civil War, which saved the Union and freed the slaves.
On the other hand, Grenada and Panama were not just wars.
There is a time for peace. Now is such a time.
A time for the UN, not unilateralism. A time for allied pressure, not pre-emptive strikes. A time for international criminal courts, not invasions.
Saddam Hussein should be held accountable for his crimes. That’s a good argument for the International Criminal Court–not a good argument for bombing Baghdad.
If we launch a “pre-emptive strike” on Iraq, we lose all moral authority. How will we then say no to India, to Pakistan, to China, when they consider pre-emptive strikes? What moral authority do we use with Putin, when he invokes the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption against Chechnya?
We lose our moral authority when our leaders advocate one-bullet diplomacy. One-bullet diplomacy is for gangsters and thugs, not great nations. We know it is wrong.
Chile suffered from the pain of one-bullet diplomacy. Gandhi and King died from one-bullet diplomacy. So did Lincoln, and both Kennedys.
We have a higher calling.
And when did we vote on pre-emption? When did we, the people, ever decide to change from a strong defense to a first-strike offense?
Since July 4, 1776, thanks to the victories and struggles of our forefathers and foremothers, America has flourished as an expanding democracy. We will fail as an empire. Rome and Britain have already tested that proposition.
Solely on political grounds, if I were George W. Bush, I guess I would want to change the subject, too. Certainly he does not benefit from public attention to the declining economy, or to unmet domestic needs. With ten days left until the elections, the Bush Administration really wants to divert our attention from Enron and Halliburton and Harken, to Iraq.
But we have unfinished business.
Unfinished business with Al Qaeda.
The unfinished business of rebuilding Afghanistan.
We have not yet caught Osama bin Laden, or the anthrax attacker. And we certainly have unfinished business here at home, with the stock market down, healthcare down, pensions down, wages stagnant, deficits up, unemployment up, poverty up, corporate crime up.
This “attack Iraq now” rhetoric is a diversion, an attempt to change the subject before Election Day.
We must keep our eyes on the prize.
The Bush Administration would divert us from:
§ a struggling economy, with the weakest economic growth in fifty years;
§ the loss of more than 2 million jobs;
§ the unemployment rate up by 1.5%;
§ a stock market down by more than 2,000 points, the sharpest decline since Herbert Hoover;
§ 1.3 Million more poor people, in only one year;
§ a shift from large surplus to massive deficit, in record time;
§ a tax cut for the very rich;
§ a corporate crime wave harkening back to the Gilded Age;
§ record CEO pay and benefits, despite corporate corruption and a stagnated minimum wage;
§ the vastly increased gap between rich and poor, both within our borders, and between north and south around the world.
§ Increasing retirement insecurity, with no prescription-drug assistance, pension plans defunded, 401(k)s turning into “201(k)s”, consumer confidence way down and the Social Security trust fund raided–despite solemn promises to the contrary.
§ And privatization still looms, despite a conservative tactical retreat.
A diversion from the basic question–are you better off than you were the day George W. Bush was selected President by his father’s friends on the Supreme Court?
Division. Danger. Diversion.
And potentially destabilization. Those “4 Ds” will be the legacy of this partisan, quick-let’s-change-the-subject, unilateral, short-term strategy. But we do not have to go there. We could try another list of Ds: debate; deliberation; delivering aid and investment.
We could try democracy.
The Bush Administration mistrusts democracy so much that they even double-crossed the 9/11 families. Bush promised them a commission, to find out what went on prior to 9/11. Then, when the press wasn’t looking, he betrayed those families.
We need to change his mind. We need a 9/11 commission, and we need some regular citizens on it, not just Congressmen and other elites. We need some of the 9/11 family members on that commission.
There is still time. We can still stop this war. And you, especially the young people among you, could lead the way.
If we trust in democracy, we will build a new peace movement based on nonviolence, and reaching out directly to regular Americans, to soldiers.
This time, the “silent majority” is on our side. Most Americans do not want this war.
If we trust democracy, we will come alive November 5. We will take advantage of the right to vote, that so many martyrs gave their lives for. Let’s come alive November 5 for Paul and Sheila Wellstone.
A Democratic History
Look at America through an open door, not through a narrow keyhole.
One way to look at America is the story of an expanding democracy, attained through struggle. Nonviolent struggle. Coalition struggle. Principled struggle. The sons of liberty, throwing tea into Boston harbor. The suffragettes, chained to the White House fence. UAW sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan. Cesar Chavez’s grape boycotts. The Montgomery bus boycott. Selma. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King and the march on Washington. Marches for women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, here on this mall. Vietnam Moratorium Day, right on this mall, thirty-three years ago.
You are here today, in that tradition. A history of hope, of struggle, of change.
Never forget what Dr. King taught us: The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.
Someday soon, swords will be beaten into plowshares.
Someday soon, lions will lie down with lambs.
Someday soon, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
The struggle for peace will be long. It may be unpopular; but it must continue. Paul Wellstone’s death challenges us to choose reconciliation, choose negotiation, containment, coalition–to choose hope, not war. We must choose co-existence over co-annihilation.
Remember Dr. King’s teaching:
Vanity asks, Is it popular?
Politics asks, Will it work? Can I win?
Morality and conscience ask, Is it right?
This is the haunting, urgent question now. Is it right? Is war necessary? Is it a remedy? Is it right?
Keep hope alive!