Comments by Ira Harritt, AFSC KC Program Coordinator, at the Freedom Fountain Rally, Kansas City, August 28, 2013
Many thanks to Rev. Wright and Rev. Howard for their leadership in organizing the Redeem the Dream event remembering the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Thanks also for inviting me to share some thoughts.
As Carl Boyd said I am the KC program coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker a pacifist organization, devoted to humanitarian service, peacemaking and working for a world in which all can live with respect and dignity. In my work I have held Dr. King and the example of the civil rights movement in the highest esteem.
To begin I would first like to remember some of Dr. King’s words from the March on Washington. He said:
“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
He called for us to:
“… make real the promises of democracy. …Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”
His “I Had a Dream” speech rightly focused on racial injustice but he also recognized that we are all in this together. And his focus on jobs and economic justice increased more and more in his remaining years.
In his 1967 speech at 11th Annual SCLC Convention“Where Do We Go From Here,” he called upon listeners to:
“....honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. …. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty.
What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
Since the 1960’s progress has been made. People organized and mobilized, but not only is the dream still a distant goal but many of the advances are under attack and are being eroded.
The concentration of wealth is increasing. The richest of the rich and huge multinational corporation are controlling public policy and legislation to enrich their coffers at the expense of the rest of us. The poor and marginalized suffer the most – and especially the children (22% all children, including 39 % of African-American children and 34 % of Latino children) and workers’ wages are stagnating and social programs are being severely cut. All except the very very rich are targeted and under attack.
These things demand of us action. But we must be creative, prepared and committed to take up the challenge. Just as the civil rights activists trained and strategized and experimented we must do the same now, not relying on what once worked for the corporation and powerful have learned from the past and have found ways to counter-act old methods.
I recently found a quote by Mahatma Gandhi which seems relevant here, he said : "We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence."
So it is up to us to take up the challenge to use our creativity and develop new nonviolent methods to overcome the influence of money in politic of corporate control and centralization of the media and revive the grassroots movement for justice and peace.
In closing I invite each of you to reflect on your dream. To think deeply, feel deeply… What kind of world do you want? Who has education, opportunity, and hope? How do we treat others? How are societies resources and wealth distributed?
I invite you to share your dreams and join together to make them real!