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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It is Time, Wednesday, August 1 is the Day

This was sent to thousands of United Methodists urging them to join in a call-in day this Wednesday to Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner asking them to take leadership and to enact a strong an effective ban on assault weapons. I hope you will join in this call-in day Wednesday, with the information below.

I know we all were horrified to see the events unfold from the mass shooting in the theater in Aurora, Colorado where 12 people were murdered and 58 were injured. In the days that followed, some have claimed that now is not the time to discuss efforts to dramatically reduce this kind of senseless gun violence from happening again. This same claim was made right after the Tucson gun shooting in January of 2011 that injured Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and in April of 2007 when the terrible gun shooting on the campus on Virginia Tech occurred, as well as in April of 1999 with the gun shooting at Columbine High School. In that time virtually nothing has happened to further the discussion on how to make our communities safer and how to make gun ownership a more responsible process.


I believe the time for a sensible discussion that prevents more victims and saves lives from further gun violence is now. Yes, we will continue to pray for comfort for the families of those killed and for healing for those who were injured and traumatized. And, in addition, we will act to see that this senseless gun violence does not create more victims.

I hope you will join me in letting our political leaders know that the time is over for allowing anti-public safety groups like the National Rifle Association stand in the way of common sense and necessary reforms that will allow gun ownership to be safe and responsible. On Wednesday, August 1, I urge you to call Senate Leader Reid (D-NV) at 1-888-427-0484 and Speaker of the House Boehner (R-OH) at 1-888-427-0480 and tell them:

As a United Methodist concerned about peace and public safety, I urge [Speaker Boehner or Leader Reid] to do all he can to end senseless gun violence such as happened in Aurora, Colorado. This can begin now by a strong and effective ban on assault weapons.

We are focusing on the House and Senate leadership to urge them to make public safety a priority and to put an end to senseless and unnecessary gun violence. We are focusing on enacting a strong and effective ban on assault weapons – a ban that was in place from 1994-2004, during which time there was a 66% drop in the use of assault weapons in crimes – because it has zero effect on those who use guns for sport. We want an assault weapons ban that is “loophole free” to ensure that unscrupulous manufacturers cannot get around it, as too many learned to do with the expired ban.

We are calling both Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid because this is not a Republican or Democratic issue – both parties cower to the money and influence of the NRA. But no longer. It is time for people of faith, it is time for United Methodists to make our voice known and to tell our political leaders that we can have safety in our neighborhoods, on our campuses, in our schools and even in our theaters. They can do something about it, they can. We can take assault weapons – weapons originally created solely for military and law enforcement use – off the streets and out of our communities.

As you call, and as you urge your fellow church members, friends, and family to call as well consider these facts (and you can find out even more on www.BradyCampaign.com).

  • Did you know that just since the gun shooting in Tucson January 8, 2011 that injured Representative Gabrielle Giffords, there have been 60 mass shootings? And during that time there has been no meaningful legislation passed that makes gun ownership a responsible process.
  • Did you know that in an average year, almost 100,000 people are shot or killed with a gun in the United States? 
  • Did you know that in the ten years that assault weapons were banned by Congress (1994-2004) use of assault weapons in crimes declined 66%? This means that banning assault weapons, which are not used by hunters and were originally created solely for use by the military, actually creates safer communities. 
  • Did you know, according to a 2003 study, an estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present (Wiebe, p. 780). There is a strong correlation between increasing gun ownership in a home with higher rates of homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings. The myth that guns provide safety must be exposed. 
  • Did you know only 1% of gun dealers account for almost 60% of crime guns recovered by police? Did you know, according to a undercover study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 94% of licensed dealers approached at gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee, and Nevada, completed sales to people who appear to have criminal records or to be straw purchasers. 
  • Did you know gun violence costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $100 billion annually through medical costs, the costs of the criminal justice system, and security precautions among other costs? Did you know that U.S. lifetime medical costs for gunshot injuries total an estimated $2.3 billion? That's over $6 million dollars a day. 
  • Did you know that exposure to violence, including gun violence, can cause intrusive thoughts and sleep disturbances, emotional withdrawal, and post-traumatic stress disorder among children? These violent acts have the equivalent emotional impact on children as war or natural disaster.
The myths that stand in the way of public safety and an end to senseless gun violence simply do not hold up. Elected leaders will not act though unless they hear from you – unless they are compelled to act. We must compel them. Reinstating the assault weapons ban is sensible and it is something that hunters and those who have nothing to do whatsoever with guns can agree on – no one needs an assault weapon.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace and he calls those who practice making peace sons and daughters of God. And we know from the gospels that Jesus did not create peace by violent force, but rather, through a force far greater and transformative: love. The Kingdom of God will not be fully manifest if we reinstate the ban on assault weapons. But a ban on assault weapons will certainly save lives and create safer communities. And I believe those are evidence of a world being transformed from the forces of fear by the Kingdom force of love and a concern for the welfare of human life.

So, please share this with others and join with me on August 1 in calling Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner with the message above. It is too important for us not to make our voices heard.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Glimpses of the Kingdom on Vacation: Breakfast and Mass Incarceration

This is the last in a series of reflections from a recent vacation to California, a truly beautiful state.

One of the last days on our vacation we visited with a good friend of mine, David Farley who is a United Methodist pastor in Los Angeles. We had breakfast together at a café called Homegirl Café, a truly remarkable place and a truly remarkable ministry. On its website it says that it “is a social enterprise assisting at-risk and formerly gang-involved young women and men to become contributing members of our community through training in restaurant service and culinary arts.” Homegirl Café is a part of Homeboy Industries, which is a ministry started by Father Greg Boyle in East Los Angeles as an outreach to young people associated with gangs. You can check out an excellent read, Tattoos on the Heart, written by Father Boyle, which I heartily recommend.


I honestly can say that of all the food we ate during our week in Los Angeles and San Francisco, nothing compares with the food we ate at Homegirl Café. But it wasn’t just the great-tasting food, it was knowing that we were being served food prepared and served by women who had once been members of gangs, but who were turning their lives around and focused on overcoming what would be to most of us the overwhelming obstacles of street life, violence, the temptations of drugs because there are practically zero opportunities at employment with livable wages, an inadequate educational system, and an all too common lack of hope that pervades too many of our urban areas. However, hope was so real at Homegirl Café it was palpable. You could taste it.

In the gift store attached to the Café were shirts with different logos all that were made by Homeboy Industries. My favorite one said, “Nothing stops a bullet better than a job.” How true, but yet, when you stop and think about how Congress and recent Presidents have responded to urban crime and violence over the last thirty to forty years, you realize this is a devastating critique of that response.

Starting in the early 1970s, when President Nixon began the long road to not-so-subtly manipulate the fear of urban crime and the hidden racism that lurked beneath those fears in order to Southernize the Republican Party and then create a war on drugs and crime by ramping up sentences for simple drug possessions and small-time dealing, the United States prison population has ballooned to such an extent that the U.S. now houses 25% of the world’s incarcerated population even though we account for only 5% of the world’s population. And because sentencing legislation has become politicized without any evidence to support equating long sentences with greater public safety, those policies have been used to incarcerate mass numbers of poor people and people of color. Though study after study shows that people of color are no more apt to use or sell drugs than Whites, people of color and people in low-income communities are arrested, charged and incarcerated at dramatically higher levels than are Whites.

This is no accident. The criminal justice we have in the United States is a system of social control. My friends, it is time to call it what it is – we have a thoroughly racist criminal justice system.

And after these people have served decades for possessing or dealing low amounts of drugs, practically nothing has been done to provide assistance to returning citizens as they reenter society. (Yes the Second Chance Act was passed in 2008, but it has barely been funded.) Recidivism, in this context, has not been likely, it has been an almost certainty.

While jobs and necessary programs such as employment training, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, education, and access to affordable housing could very easily dramatically reduce the prison population through reducing recidivism – which would also provide for greater public safety for local communities – our supposed Congressional “leaders” continue to thumb their noses to proven evidence-based solutions for those returning citizens who seek to avoid further criminal behavior and live full contributable lives in local communities. Instead, thanks to an ever-growing number of Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate, Congress continues to drastically cut budgets when it comes to necessary and again, proven effective programs. Congress has chosen to pour money into the building of prisons, including giving more money to private prison corporations who happen to be large donors to candidates on both sides of the aisle. Congress also continues to attempt to pass more mandatory minimum sentences which only drive up the number of those incarcerated, knowing full-well that mass incarceration does not create greater safety – mass incarceration creates generations of those who spend the vast majority of their lives behind bars.

Once again, this is not an accident. Mass incarceration, as Michelle Alexander explains it in her book, The New Jim Crow, is a means of social control. We do not want the responsibility of providing avenues for those once incarcerated to be able to integrate back into society. We have chosen to win elections through accusing the other person of the other party (and both parties do this) of not being tough enough on crime. We have not taken the responsibility of creating a system where victims are cared for and those who really do commit crimes are not punished punitively, but rather, are held accountable to those they hurt.

Thus, mass incarceration has become the creation of a new caste system intended to literally warehouse, often in inhumane conditions, large numbers of people of color. This is why we have more Black men in prison than in college. This is why for Black men in their thirties, 1 in 10 are in prison – 1 in 10. This is why millions of people – mostly people of color and people who are poor – have been stripped of their civil rights, including the right to vote, solely because they spent time in prison. They are stripped of their political voice in many states because they have been targeted through a so-called War on Drugs and tough on crime policies which really have not stopped crime. We have created a permanent second-class citizenry among millions of people and yet, everything seems fine because we never see or know them. But it isn’t. Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

So, with all of this swirling around in my mind as I ate my breakfast and sitting in Homegirl Cafe, that is why I was so moved and touched so deeply. The hope I sensed was so powerful. For forty years society has targeted these men and women, because they are people of color and because they grew up in poor neighborhoods, through their so-called War on Drugs. And yet, here they were, overcoming all of those odds to make something of their lives. They were using their gifts and talents, they were contributing even though, even before they were born, they had been marked for entrance into the largest prison system in the history of the world.

I left Homegirl Café full because it really was the best food I had had all week. But I also left hungry for justice. I left hungry to change the will of a Congress that is more focused on retributive punishment than restorative compassion; more focused on building more prisons for their corporate campaign donors than investing in educational systems and investing in the futures of their constituents. I left hungry to continue building a movement among people of faith incarnated among those directly impacted by a broken criminal justice system since this is the only thing that will end mass incarceration once and for all. Thanks Homegirl Café. Thanks for a terrific breakfast, and thanks for giving me hope. Now let’s get to work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Glimpses of the Kingdom on Vacation: No Stars in LA

These are a series of reflections from a recent vacation to California, a truly beautiful state.


While in Los Angeles we took one of the cheesy tours of the stars homes in Hollywood. I honestly feel so ambivalent about this. I admit, as a fan of films, it is fascinating to get even a glimpse of where some of the famous movie stars live and move around. However, I found myself feeling so gross about driving in a van with the roof ripped off while someone kept teasing us about keeping our eyes open because we never knew where we would see “one of them.” The whole thing felt a little like being at a zoo and waiting for the monkeys to come out of the cage so we could point and stare.

Throughout the tour, I could not help but think about one of the major problems with Western culture is the rugged individualism, which expresses itself most often in detachment from others, particularly those who are suffering. One of the things the tour driver kept mentioning to us is that we would not get very many good looks at the stars’ homes because they had become tired of the paparazzi so they had planted huge trees in front of their houses to shield them and to give them some privacy. You could feel the sense of expectation seep out of the van as the realization that seeing mailboxes and huge trees covering mansions would be all that we get to see. Yet, no one left or quit the tour, we still spent 2 ½ hours driving around Hollywood in our quest to see the stars.

I could not stop thinking that the media and the public’s overwhelming desire to see, to connect, to feel some attachment with these larger-than-life stars which fuels the media and paparazzi, were literally pushing these people into greater detachment from the rest of the world – a world filled far more with suffering and injustice than shopping sprees and star-crossed gossip. Yet, we continued in our search for a glimpse of stardom even while they built bigger houses behind taller trees, inching further and further away from the suffering where we are all called to serve regardless of whether we ever appear in a movie or not.

I was also struck by how many people are dependent on the welfare of so small a group of people. I counted at least 12-15 other star tour buses or vans (all of them with the roof cut off for some odd reason) in our short excursion. I later learned there were close to 40 different businesses giving tours of the homes of Hollywood stars. Think about how many people are employed because one person stars in films or music. Hair stylists, wardrobe specialists, public relations groups, all of the people associated with the making of films (stay all the way to the end of a film next time and count the number of people it takes to make a film – it’s enormous!), and then all of the people employed to take care of their children, their homes, their yards, their vehicles, and then remember all of the industries which spring indirectly from these few peoples’ individual stardom, including the close to 40 businesses that drive around their homes all day searching in futility for even a glimpse of one of them, or someone who may know one of them. A couple of bad films and dozens of people, if not hundreds, are literally out of work!

I could not stop thinking and asking myself if this is really good – I mean, is this really a good thing to have so many people so dependent on the beauty, the sex appeal, the coolness of so few people. God, I cannot even begin to imagine the pressure of being Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie, or Miley Cyrus! I am happy that our driver had a job – he sure worked hard. You can’t fault people for the jobs they have that are associated with a few people being movie stars (except for the paparazzi who seem to be parasitic in their behavior). But I also thought it was sad that at the end of his life, my tour driver will have driven untold thousands of miles around other peoples’ homes, telling random stories about other peoples’ lives. I just do not know if that sounds fulfilling to me. I still look forward to seeing many of the stars we tried to see in the films – like I said, I love films. But my 2 ½ hours of trying to see life behind the films was more than enough for me. I think I am content to wait and see them on the screen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Glimpses of the Kingdom on Vacation: Vacations and Short-Term Mission Trips

These are a series of reflections from a recent vacation to California, a truly beautiful state.
It did not take very long once we landed in San Francisco to see a large homeless community here. Because I have spent some time in urban ministry contexts, I feel like I am apt to think of ways to see how the homeless can best be cared for, which naturally leads me to a paternal and somewhat detached analysis deduced not from numerous conversations with the homeless themselves, but rather, my own middle-class discomfort of having people who smell differently, look a little ragged and who are not socialized from a middle-class orientation wandering around me. It made me remember David in the Old Testament looking at the haggard tent where the ark of the covenant –the presence of God among Israel – resided and then looking at his own palace and insisting on building God a temple – all so David would quit feeling guilty about his own affluence! Far too often too many of our ministries are really about our own comfort!


Once again my boys took the lead on how to treat people right. They were so perplexed and saddened by the sheer number of people they saw living on the streets in San Francisco they asked if we could start giving money to them more often. They felt the need to do something. To stand by, watching people living in suffering and not do anything, much less to be on vacation, eating out at nice places (ok, I have two boys so not all of the places were “nice”), walking around with a sense of freedom and carelessness, felt awkward at least if not downright shaming to them and to me.

But even as we occasionally handed out small amounts of money (very small) or occasionally offered a kind word, it still felt like we were too focused on our own comfort and that our meager efforts were more about appeasing the flicker of conscience that we had than about alleviating the suffering of others. Vacations are hard for me. They just feel too damn self-indulgent.

And I knew this part of our trip would not end happily either. Handing out money, ignoring them altogether; it all seems to result in the same end – alleviating my guilt. In fact, I know from firsthand experience of living in poor neighborhoods and doing urban ministry, the only thing that really truly helps those who are on the fringes in our society, those who are marginalized, or who are suffering for whatever reason, is shared life. Incarnation is the only way I know of that truly and effectively addresses the issues of poverty and marginalization. But incarnation is hard to do, especially when you are visiting a city for a short time, especially when you are on vacation!

This is why short-term mission trips are frankly, so useless most of the time. Unless there is some intentional learning and very intentional action steps to go back to home communities and make real life changes, short-term mission trips are guilt-free vacations, conscience-appeasing poverty-cruises for the affluent to feel better about their affluence and to “thank God that it is not them” living on the streets. In fact, I believe most short-term mission trips are worse than vacations because you feel like you have done something (at least before you go to Six Flags on the last day) and in the end, they have rarely shown to make any lasting difference in the way people tithe or live out their calling. Trips less than three weeks or a month tend to do more to cement the current economic, social and political status quo than to change it.

So, we had the worst of both worlds on this trip. We did a little bit, but nothing that was effective in overcoming homelessness. And, at the same time, we didn’t appease our conscience or release us from our guilt. But maybe, letting our boys see and feel the uselessness of doing a little bit will help spur them to want to do more. Guilt can be a good thing if used effectively for change. I guess it all depends on how Marti and I use this to teach our boys. And, like all mission trips, the real work will happen when we get home.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Glimpses of the Kingdon on Vacation: Ten Year Old Grace



These are a series of reflections from a recent vacation to California, a truly beautiful state.

Looking for glimpses of justice, glimpses of the Kingdom while on vacation? Ok, not always easy since vacations seem to be as much about survival than relaxation and enjoyment (I won’t even begin to try and explain how a parking lot in Santa Monica lost the keys to our rental car and we had to wait 3 hours, rent another car, get yelled at by a couple of cabbies, and then pay for the first rental to be towed).


But I believe that as God is omnipotent, God’s justice can be evident everywhere. But then again, injustice is everywhere as well. Of course, we did not get off to a very good start. My father-in-law is travelling with us and since he is in a wheelchair we boarded our plane to San Francisco before everyone else. We were all in a row; Eli, my oldest son was pushing my father-in-law, then Isaiah my youngest, then me and lastly, my wife, Marti. The attendant taking the tickets to board the plane stopped in the middle of our group and asked my youngest, Isaiah, who once again was in the middle of the group and upon whom I had my hand on his shoulder and who is brown-skinned since his birth-father comes from the Caribbean and his birth-mother is a light-skinned Anglo, “is he with you?” Duh! Who the hell else would he be with! That’s what I felt like yelling, although I didn’t.

We are so prone to segregate and discriminate that we ask such ridiculous questions such as who the one brown-skinned person is surrounded by white people. Isaiah is my son and I cannot imagine him not being my son – he fills me with joy just by walking in a room, just by saying my name. He is my sweet boy. But we live in a world that does not identify people to celebrate who they are, but instead, to highlight their differentness in order to segregate and discriminate. I am sure this woman is a very nice woman, and to be honest, Isaiah barely noticed, but the fact is he noticed. He was made to notice that he does not fit in our family when it comes to the color of his skin.

I know it is a lot to ask, but I was once again, even before we left the ground, reminded that both individually and corporately as a society we are resistant to accept and tolerate, to welcome and receive others graciously. I also was reminded that my son will have to face this constantly as he grows up. He will be the kid in school who has to introduce his parents to others knowing that whoever he introduces us to will have at least a slight hesitation, a moment of surprise and perhaps even discomfort.

It is to his credit that he takes it in stride – he does much better with it than me, I am afraid. He accepts others and he treats others the way he wants to be treated. I hate the pain that these small but not so subtle events may cause him. But I praise God for the grace he exudes, even as a ten year old. Maybe what the world needs is ten year old grace, ten year old love, ten year old acceptance. Because the rest of us sure don’t do it very well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Statement on the Gun Shooting at Colorado Theater

This statement was put out today by the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society urges all people to pray for the victims of Thursday night’s shooting in Aurora, CO at a movie theater. We grieve at the unnecessary loss of life. Thus far, twelve people were killed and 38 people were wounded. The need to prevent the incidence of firearm-related injury and death is a priority public health issue.

The United Methodist Church places high emphasis on “the need to prevent the incidence of firearm-related injury and death is an issue of increasing concern and a priority public health issue.” In the resolution on “Gun Violence,” the denomination calls for social policies and personal lifestyles that bring an end to senseless gun violence, including a ban on all handguns. These shootings are “particularly sad” because the victims include children.

Equal to our sadness at this tragic loss of life is our disappointment at Congress’ complete ineffectiveness to place public safety over and above the interests of the National Rifle Association. Some of the most immediate and common sense policies that Congress could enact – this week – include:

• instituting background checks on all gun sales, including at gun shows;

• limiting bulk sales of guns intended to be illegally sold; and

• reinstating the ban on sale of military assault weapons to civilians.

We believe these simple policies would help lessen the increasing violence associated with the current absence of “effective gun regulations.”

We all must pray for the victims of gun violence, but we all – including Congress – must act to prevent such unnecessary gun violence. In the face of mounting killings due to gun violence, it is imperative for Congress to take action. In the interest of public safety, we cannot afford to allow the power of the gun lobby and its efforts to ensure ownership without responsibility to keep Congress silent and inactive.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A 23 Hour Fast to End Solitary Confinement

This was published as an op-ed in the Virginia Pilot on July 15.

Earlier this month, in light of the high cost of solitary confinement and its diminishing returns, Sen. Richard Durbin held the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, noting that, “The United States holds far more prisoners in segregation or solitary confinement than any other democratic nation on Earth.” The day before the hearing, I joined hundreds of people of faith in a 23-hour fast organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, symbolizing the 23 hours per day that tens of thousands of prisoners, including the mentally ill and children, are warehoused in solitary confinement in the United States.

During my fast, I meditated on the words of apostle Paul, who wrote in his letter to the Hebrews, “Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

If you are wondering what is so bad about isolation, numerous studies document the destructive toll that forced seclusion takes on one’s mind, including causing hallucinations, perceptual distortions, suicidal ideation, and ironically, irrational anger. While the consequential symptoms of solitary confinement are disturbing, the results should not be surprising for people of faith. Scripture tells us human beings are innately relational, and on the basis of that argument, people should not be deprived of this most basic need.

Solitary confinement is dangerous for our communities. Research shows that inmates released directly from solitary confinement to society have significantly higher rates of recidivism than inmates who have the chance to transition into the general prison population before release. Successful reentry of these citizens to our local communities requires preparation for release while they are still incarcerated. We should be stewarding our limited tax dollars wisely by investing in humane alternatives that address the mental health needs of prisoners in a way that effectively contributes both to their rehabilitation and to their successful transition back into society. Solitary confinement ensures that successful reentry will not happen.

For those who assume that the use of solitary confinement is a necessary safety management tool, I would encourage you to consider the growing number of states including Mississippi, Colorado and Maine that have safely reformed their solitary confinement policies and greatly reduced costs to taxpayers.

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, who ushered in reforms reducing the solitary confinement population in Mississippi by over 75 percent, testified before the Congressional hearing this week. He explained that as a result of the reforms, “[V]iolence [was] reduced by 50 percent,” and Mississippi eventually closed its supermax unit. “[H]ere we are four years later, it’s still working.”

Sen. Durbin also pointed out that the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, Joseph Ponte, has implemented a number of reforms leading to a more than 50 percent reduction of Maine’s use of isolation by working side-by-side with mental health workers, corrections officers, and advocacy groups.

In my home state of Virginia, the troubling use of solitary confinement has in the past year led to legislation, an investigation request to the Department of Justice, and even prisoner hunger strikes. Rather than welcome a dialogue among advocacy groups and mental health professionals, the Virginia Department of Corrections insists there is no such thing as solitary confinement in the Commonwealth, only forms of “segregation.” Whatever the euphemism, when inmates are placed in small cells alone for approximately 23 hours per day, with severely restricted programming and interaction with other staff or prisoners, it causes severe mental damage and puts our communities as risk.

The faith community has a moral obligation to uphold the dignity and the mental health of those currently incarcerated. As Commissioner Epps pointed out in his testimony, “We as correctional leaders must realize that ... to be successful, we have to always be willing to change and listen to all the stakeholders involved in the criminal justice system.” Rather than mincing words, the Virginia Department of Corrections should invite independent experts to assist with reforming its inmate classification process and should promote transparency by inviting all stakeholders to the table.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kick Butt Quotes from Robert F. Kennedy

The list of quotes below comes from the excellent book, The Gospel According to RFK: Why It Matters Now. With the exception of the final quote, which is my favorite, all of the quotes were taken from the campaign for Presidency. This was the final months of Robert F. Kennedy’s life. We can only wonder what all would have been different had RFK would have been elected President in 1968. But I find his words still very much relevant and powerful.


On ending the Vietnam War, March 18, 1968 in the morning
I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of this war, more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese slaughtered; so that they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: ‘They made a desert and called it peace.’….Can we ordain to ourselves the awful majesty of God – to decide what cities and villages are to be destroyed, who will live and who will die, and who will join the refugees wandering in a desert of our own creation?....We have prayed to different gods, and the prayers of neither have been answered fully. Now, while there is still time for some of them to be partly answered, now is the time to stop.

On poverty, March 18, 1968 in the afternoon
But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another great task. It is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – a lack of purpose and dignity – that inflicts us all. Too much and too long, we seemed to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things….[the gross national product] does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

On dissent, March 21, 1968
So when we are told to forgo all dissent and division, we must ask: Who is it that is truly dividing the country? It is not those who call for change; it is those who make present policy who divide our country; those who bear responsibility for our present course…Those who now call for an end of dissent, moreover seem to not understand what this country is all about. For debate and dissent are at the very heart of the American process. We have followed the wisdom of Greece, ‘All things are to be examined and brought into question. There is no set limit to thought.’

On youth engagement in the political process, March 27, 1968
For I believe that once the active and concerned citizens of this nation organize, and build new bonds between themselves, to reassert control over our political lives – once we have done that, we will also be able to assert control over the government programs which so deeply affect our personal lives.

On the night Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, April 4, 1968
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black…Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

On racial conflict, April 10, 1968
Among us are millions who wish to be part of this society – to share its abundance, it opportunity, and its purposes. We can deny this wish or work to make it come true. If we choose denial then we choose spreading conflict, which will surely erode the well-being and liberty of every citizen and, in a profound way, diminish the idea of America. If we choose fulfillment it will take work but we will choose to improve the well-being of all of our people; choose to end fear and heal wounds; and we will choose peace – the only peace that can last – peace with justice.

On ending the war in Vietnam, April 24, 1968
Neither can we afford to forget the real constructive force in the world comes not from bombs, but from imaginative ideas, warm sympathies, and a generous spirit. These are qualities that cannot be manufactured by specialists in public relations. They are the natural qualities of a people pursuing decency and human dignity in its own undertakings without arrogance or hostility or delusions of superiority towards others; a people whose ideals for others are firmly rooted in the realities of the society we have built for ourselves.

On health care, April 26, 1968
The issue before us then is simple: Shall we continue to watch as medical costs soar beyond the reach of most Americans, condemning the poor to illness and the average American to the whim of fate – or are we going to act to make medical care something more than a luxury of the affluent?....It is neither economical or compassionate to care for the consequences of poverty, and ignore its roots.

On the new politics, May 21, 1968
Too much and for too long, we have acted as if our great military might and wealth could bring about an American solution to every world problem….What the new politics is, in the last analysis, is a reaffirmation of the best within the great political traditions of our nation: compassion for those who suffer, determination to right the wrongs within our nation, and a willingness to think and to act anew, free from old concepts and false illusions.

On the black struggle for freedom in South Africa, 1966
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time [a person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they] send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.