Boggs Center Living For Change NewsLetter – September 3rd, 2018


September 3rd, 2018

grace and jimmy


Thinking for Ourselves     Shea Howell Abundance of Caution

Early Wednesday I drove to my usual downtown meeting, about 20 minutes from my home. Most of the drive is on freeways. On the few miles of surface streets, I passed four Water Department crews working on broken lines. Two included fire hydrants spewing water into intersections.
On Saturday, heavy rains fell. Two of the four blocks up my street were flooded. Sewers could not absorb the water.  The drain just next to my house is clogged. It took us more than 5 years to get the city to fix it. Since the fix, it worked for about 6 months and is once again flooding.  Neighbors have organized calling into the city, but so far, no action. This drain, along with all the others that are flooding were “repaired” under Duggan’s repaving the street effort.
Detroit Public Schools just announced that drinking water will be shut off in all of its buildings because of concern for elevated lead and copper. The decision came after testing ordered by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti revealed that 16 of 24 schools had excessive levels of the toxins in drinking water.
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study concluding that “Low-income households across metro Detroit can’t afford their water bills.” Although the United Nations recommends that water bills should be between 3 and 4% of monthly income, many people across the metro area are paying 10%. In Detroit it can be closer to 20%.
The researchers also found that “84 percent of residents surveyed said they cut back on monthly expenses to pay their water bills, while 51 percent of households reported switching off between water and energy bills.”
Earlier studies raised the very real concerns that continued water shutoffs affect household sanitation and increase the risk of infectious diseases. Using data from Ford Hospital and the city health Department, former public health director George Gaines found both increased risk of infectious diseases in areas with high numbers of water shutoffs and a dramatic spike in these diseases, correlating with shutoffs. He found “GI outbreaks annually averaged 10.2 from 2012 thru 2015 years. However, 2016 had 45 & 2017 had 87 outbreaks of group clusters.”
Anyone who walks the streets of Detroit’s neighborhoods knows we are facing a monumental water crisis. The Duggan administration has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the wisdom of community voices who press for a real water affordability plan based on two simple principles: water is human right and a public trust. This refusal is rooted in white supremacy, casting Detroiters as unwilling to pay for water. Thus the demand during the bankruptcy process to collect “unpaid bills.”
Today, as the infrastructure crumbles, as repairs appear shoddy at best, and as both water and sewerage rates score, the only winner is Homrich. By the end of this year, they will have gained about $20 million dollars for shutting off people’s water.
The Mayor and City Council know full well that this is an unsustainable outrage. A water affordability plan based on percentage of income rather than usage would provide a consistent income flow to allow for a rational, sustainable policy that protects our people and our water.
In shutting off the drinking water in the schools, Dr. Vitti said. “Out of an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of our students and employees, I am turning off all drinking water in our schools.” Where is the caution and concern from our Mayor and Council?




I Had Never Eaten in Ghana Before.  But My Ancestors Had.


Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony to Take Place at Eastern Market for Newly Installed Windmill
A public ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on Thursday, September 6, 2018 to celebrate the installation of an energy-generating windmill outside of Eastern Market’s Shed 5. On Friday, August 24, 2018, Detroit-based metalsmithing workshop CAN Art Handworks worked with Eastern Market Corporation and a diverse team of experts and volunteers to install the windmill. Soon it will power a charging station where visitors to the market can charge their cell phones and other electronic devices.
At the ceremony, which will start at 10:30 am, Carlos Nielbock, CAN Art Handworks President & CEO, Dan Carmody, President of Eastern Market Corporation, professors from University of Michigan Dearborn and community supporters of the Detroit Windmill Project will gather to celebrate the successful installation of the first of two windmills to be installed at Eastern Market.
The second windmill will generate energy for a weather station for the Detroit Market Garden at Wilkins and Orleans. Both windmills were made from reclaimed or ‘upcycled’ materials and serve as functional public art that will help visitors to the Eastern Market visualize the potential to use existing materials to build green technology to power solutions for Detroit’s energy needs.
Installing the windmills is the first step towards a larger vision implementing upcycling and green energy projects in Detroit. CAN Art Handworks, Eastern Market Corporation and researchers from University of Michigan-Dearborn are partnering to assess the feasibility of scaling up the project.
The Detroit Windmill Project has been made through the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge, which funds ideas that engage and enrich Detroit through the arts, and a matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Public Spaces Community Places initiative.
For more information about the ribbon-cutting ceremony or Detroit Windmill Project, contact Paul Draus at or Janai Gilmore at 313-444-9317 or



Boggs Center – Living for Change News Letter – August 28th, 2018

August 28th, 2018

grace and jimmy

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Democracy is not Static

Trump’s defense is crumbling. Criminal charges of corruption are moving closer and closer to the White House. The President is now referred to as a Mafia Boss, described as waging war on the rule of law. As guilty verdicts and plea bargains proliferate, more and more people are focusing attention on Republicans in Congress, asking how it is possible for them to remain silent in the face of mounting evidence of corruption, immorality, and greed.  Most Republicans cannot find their way to denouncing Trump’s behaviors.

Paul Krugman, wrote in the New York Times that the real news of the week is “the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.” Krugman warns that this “spineless” and “sinister” behavior is likely to get worse if Republicans retain their hold on congress in the coming election.  He concluded, “I don’t think most political commentators have grasped how deep the rot goes. I don’t think they understand, or at any rate admit to themselves, that democracy really could die just a few months from now.”

Democracy is in trouble and Trump and his supporters have weakened the institutions we have long associated with its practice. But there is a deeper consideration here. Democracy is not static. It is not a single, solid entity. It is more than voting every few years. At its best, it is an aspiration, imperfectly grasped, made real by the political forces of any given moment. In reality, the US has never had a full democratic practice. Rather, the history of the last two hundred and fifty years has been the history of people struggling to expand the narrow confines of a controlled, representative process, that has only rarely represented the interests of the people over those of corporate power.

At the heart of the democratic impulse is the desire to not only shape the decisions that affect our personal lives, but to take responsibility for the direction of our country. This impulse was nurtured in this land, long before the American Revolution. Many Indigenous people practiced a radical, participatory democracy, where decisions were made in council circles as people talked, listened, and thought together. Elders, especially women, were looked to for wisdom and guidance. Under the influence of these practices, settler colonists established town meetings and public conversations to determine policies and actions. Long before the first American Revolution, direct democratic process evolved. Many of these ideas were codified in the Declaration of Independence and put into practice in the Articles of Confederation. But both these documents also enshrined the idea that only some people, mostly white, male, and wealthy, could be trusted with decision making power. Many historians argue that the Constitution and all its compromises were more about limiting democracy than encouraging freedom. From the very beginning, Native peoples, African Americans, women and immigrants have had to fight to become included in the most elemental practices of democracy.

Today it is clear that this compromised idea of Democracy is as corrupt as Trump. We now face the responsibilities of finding new ways to influence the course of our lives together. Democracy is something we have yet to create in this land. But make no mistake, it is emerging everywhere. Trump just underscores the urgency of our collective need to establish new principles and practices that will allow us to form more perfect ways of living.

Jazz Lovers Paradise Tour9/1/18


An exciting, fascinating fact-filled tribute to faces and places of Detroit’s Jazz Legacy. Visiting clubs where Chick Corea and John Coltrane played. See the high school where Alice Coltrane, Ron Carter, and Donald Byrd learned their craft. Miles stayed in the “heavy city” perfecting his cool.


Kim Sherobbi is a native “Detroiter” who lives in the same house she grew up in. She is on the Board of Directors of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center, a SWF partner organization in Detroit that aims to help grassroots activists develop into visionary leaders. Her relationship with Sweet Water Foundation began in 2011 and has been growing ever since.

Sweet Water Foundation’s relationship with Kim is one of many that demonstrate the intersection and similarities between people and communities across the nation. We are excited to highlight Kim’s work as we collectively work towards tackling this country’s most pressing systemic problems. Read on to learn more about Kim.

12th Annual D-Town Farm Harvest Festival



Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – August 7th, 2018 –

August 7th, 2018

grace and jimmy

Thinking for Ourselves    
Shea Howell
Shaping Our City

Detroit has always been shaped by the impulses of white men.  It was established in 1701 in the midst of war by white men pursuing land and access to the wealth of the natural world. Over the centuries, war and violence, pursuit of personal wealth, and destruction of the commons have been part of our legacy.  But so, too, are the moments of resistance to these efforts. Chief Pontiac forged one of the largest armies contesting imperial expansion on the globe. Henry Ford’s mechanized industrial production, made possible by publicly financed streets, water and sewers, was contained by the humanizing thrust of the labor movement, emphasizing the dignity of people who work. Many of our streets bear the names of those who wantonly killed, enslaved, stole and sold other human beings. Yet we also honor the Abolitionist, the outlaws, and the troublemakers and peace seekers.

Today, as we pass the five years since the beginning of the bankruptcy declaration, we see a resurgence of personal greed overwhelming the public good. Powerful interests are attempting to force their vision for the future on all of us.

The figure to emerge most clearly in this post-bankruptcy era is that of Dan Gilbert. Hotels, casinos, restaurants, former police stations, and failed jails are only part of an estimated $2.15 billion in investments in the downtown area. These investments are supported in large part by public funds. The public funds are justified with the argument that only public financing and creative tax incentives make it worth the risk for people to invest in the city. Such public financing, we are told, will trickle down, providing jobs to Detroiters, whose tax dollars are leveraged in these deals.

Like many of the most brutal ideas of this present moment, this notion was fostered in Michigan, in the battle for Poletown. There, in 1980, for the first time, corporations and government elites joined forces to argue that the public need for jobs justified the government’s ability to take a community and give it to a private corporation for the development of a for profit business. In this case it was the community of Poletown where 3,500 people were forcefully removed. Their homes, businesses, churches and schools were leveled for a Cadillac plant.  

Of course, the promised jobs never materialized. Nor the revitalized economy. But General Motors got its plant, and the profits that flowed from it. Years later, after pain, disruption and death, the Michigan Supreme Court said, opps. In 2004 the Court reversed its support of the “quick take” legislation, finding it unconstitutional.

But the intellectual foundation had been established and it became normal for City Councils, County Commissioners, and State Legislatures to provide tax incentives and a range of tools for to shift public money into private hands.

Such mechanisms contributed in no small part to the Detroit bankruptcy and to the chaos in our public schools.

Meanwhile forces of resistance continue to press for alternatives, to find ways of building a sustainable, just, and inclusive city.

Around the country cities are experimenting with progressive polices that promise affordable housing; access to clean, affordable water; corporate accountability;  sustainable development; and protection for vulnerable people.

Detroit, once a leader in visionary municipal development, has fallen under the control of a small group of men who think narrowly about advancing their own wealth. This path only leads to violence and destruction.  

Yet throughout the city people are advocating for a different vision. People press for a real water affordability program, such as the one designed here, but adopted by Philadelphia. They are working to evolve affordable housing plans and rent controls, drawing on ideas from Richmond to NY. Community land trusts and benefit agreements are evolving with sophisticated reporting mechanisms, as in Houston.  Visionary ideas are everywhere in our city, just not in the halls of this administration or Gilbert’s board rooms.

Black Power on the West Side
Sunday, August, 26th
2-6 pm


Please join
Black Scroll Network History & Tours and historian Jamon Jordan on a tour of important sites connected to the Black militant liberation movement. We will visit and teach/learn about sites connected with: The Republic of New Afrika, the Black Panther Party, the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, the Algiers Motel, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and SO MUCH MORE!

Bus Tour is $25


Most years, this last week in July is the only time that the media turns its attention to people with disabilities. But this year has been different.


Summer Gatherings 
Rich Feldman

As Donald Trump and the counter-revolution take advantage of the systemic breakdown of Western Civilization, we are witnessing a massive re-alignment of those in power. I had the opportunity to be with people this summer in Toronto and Cape Cod who are asking fundamental questions about what this means as we work to nurture leadership, create community, and develop spiritual warriors for our movements to envision and create local, sustainable communities.  

These two gatherings represent some of the essential rethinking that many people are now doing about this moment in human history

While some will say we are at the end of another civilization, others will say we are at the end of an epoch. Those who have been reading Living for Change and the work of James and Grace Lee Boggs recognize that we are at a crossroads. We are not going back to the way things were, but there is no guarantee the “next system will be better.”  That is why what we do individually and collectively matters so much.

At both gatherings I had the opportunity to be with people from the around the globe who recognize that this is a dangerous time, but also an opportunity to engage in local transformative work, and leadership development. We talked of preserving the values and principles of interdependence, compassion, and generosity of spirit so that we can create communities that care for our elders, our children, our earth.

Meg Wheatley led one of the gatherings. It was a week long study session based upon her recent book “Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity.”  Each day focused on probing one of the following issues:

What time is it on the clock of the world?
The pattern of collapse: Lessons for leaders
The dynamics of living systems: Lessons for leaders
Leading an Island of Sanity
Who do we choose to be?

Joanna Macy also attended the gathering, bringing her spirit, intellect ,and decades of commitment to creating new ways of living and being.  She understands that at the “end of Empire we must find ways to lift up hope. You can learn more about her here.

What is hope? Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.  

Earlier in the month I attended the Toronto Summer Institute on Inclusion.

At this gathering we showed the film: Intelligent lives which profiles our son Micah, and also Naieer and Naomi on their journey. The film captures how they successfully challenge labels, IQ testing ,and preconceived notions of people with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation).

In the course of these conversations I thought about the often used phrase:  “It takes a village to raise our children.” It is becoming clearer to me that we also should consider, it takes our children to create a village.

We also showed An American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. Folks were excited to learn about Detroit and eagerly received Riverwise magazineThe daily conversations revolved around how we consciously create community.

Deamon Harges of Indianapolis, Indiana, calls himself a Roving Listener.  He is creating power through deep listening.
By listening, he discovers the gifts, passions, and dreams of citizens in his neighborhood, using them to build community, economy, and mutual delight.”

Daemon was joined by Caitlin Childs of Atlanta, GeorgiaCaitlin Petrakis Childs is a thirty-something, white, queer, intersex, femme, vegan, community organizer. Caitlin is a visionary spirit and organizer of the future while totally rooted in the present.  She has worked successfully to create inclusive urban farming and food security models across Georgia with folks who have intellectual disabilities. Her organizing fosters community, dignity, and engagement.

As I reflect on these two gatherings I know that over the next few months much of the country will focus on elections. Trump is already organizing his post election Veteran’s Day parade to celebrate War and Militarism. We know the depth of the counter revolutionary, white supremist forces backing Trump will not disappear in an election. Thus it becomes critical that we deepen our own efforts, expanding our thinking, our organizing and our connections.  

Since the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, James and Grace Lee Boggs emphasized the need to think dialectically, to commit ourselves to place, and re-imagine the concepts and practice of revolution as well as our vision of a new city. Grace and James also emphasized the need to study place and history.

As I participated in these gatherings, I am so grateful for their gift to me to know our history, locally, nationally and globally. Having this longer view helps me understand that our work in Detroit creates the possibilities that a more inclusive, sustainable and loving  epoch can emerge.

We are at the end of an epoch that began more than 600 years ago.  That epoch began with pushing people form the land into cities, burning women as  witches, the rise of capitalism, the slave trade, racism, individualism, white supremacy, patriarchy,  scientific rationalism, and reductionism. Now we are witnessing the decline of the Nation State and the limits of a so called democracy that represents corporate powers. The illusions and delusions that there are scientific and economic solutions to our current fears, pain, and hungers have been laid bare.  

Where do we go from here?  What time is it on the clock of the world?  How do we face these new realities with hope and vision? Can we, as theologian, friend and historian Vincent Harding hoped, become “a citizen of a country that does not yet exist?”

“I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist.”

…on the right side of the world revolution… MLK Jr 1967

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. ”  

Martin Luther King Jr     Speech      Break The Silence NY 1967

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence MLK Jr –

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence

Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam

By Martin Luther King, Jr

Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City:


I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.

Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

The Importance of Vietnam

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be!

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the “Vietcong” or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

Strange Liberators

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.

Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators — our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change — especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese –the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one “Vietcong”-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them — mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?

Now there is little left to build on — save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.

Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front — that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the north” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them — the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.

When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.

This Madness Must Cease

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:

“Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

  1. End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
  2. Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
  3. Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
  4. Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
  5. Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.

Protesting The War

Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisers” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

The People Are Important

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every moutain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:

Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation Comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth and falsehood, For the good or evil side; Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, Off’ring each the bloom or blight, And the choice goes by forever Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet ’tis truth alone is strong; Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong: Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow Keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”