We are resolved to follow our national dream.
The Orchard House Speech of Doris "Granny D" Haddock
The following speech was made at Orchard House, Home of the Alcotts, in Concord, Massachusetts on October 6, 2005.
On my walk across the nation several years ago, I had the honor of speaking from a pulpit where Dr. King once preached. How I felt the power of his words and his love somehow still echoing in that great room! More recently, on the anniversary of his death in Memphis, I had the honor of speaking from the balcony where he took his last breath.
You, of course, understand how his politics of nonviolence was informed by the sacrifices of Gandhi, and how Gandhi's nonviolence was informed by Tolstoy and Ruskin, who, in turn, were inspired by the American Quakers working for the abolition of slavery. The great Quaker voice was William Lloyd Garrison, who spoke to this very group so many years ago--as did Emerson and William James and Julia Ward Howe and other voices for justice who spoke to you in dark times. And so, in the long shadow of these people, I humbly raise my voice today.
We meet in a time when two great and growing divisions are separating us as Americans: rich versus poor, and left versus right. I would like to speak to the second of these, as its resolution would help solve the other.
The political issues that divide the American people are great issues, with severe consequences for the moral life of the nation and the fate of the planet. These are issues equal to the issues that divided us in 1860, and we should fear the historical similarities.
In some ways the conflict of the Civil War was not resolved, but rather accommodated, in the same way that smoldering coals under ashes are but a fire asked to bide its time. Do not the sparks now swirl up fresh? Is the heat and danger we feel not the old conflict between those who believe that authority comes from above: from an Old Testament God, delivered through husbands, presidents, preachers, ayatollahs and plantation overseers to people arranged in layers according to their worth--is it not a conflict between those authoritarians and those others who instead believe that all men are created equal, and that the authority to govern issues forth from them, upward to their government--their common vessel of community--and not downward? Is this not the divide of 1860 and also of our own time?
We have an advantage that our countrymen did not have in 1860, for, despite our tendency to assign colors to states, our differences are not locked into the different economies of different regions. Our differences are with our neighbors, our friends, our family members. We can argue this out peaceably across fences and dinner tables instead of across a bloodied continent as before.
But again it is the work of ending slavery. This time it is a slavery of the mind, which the hardest kind to deal with, as it is usually characterized by the unwillingness of the victims to be emancipated. But it must happen if the suffering of this nation and of the world is to end.
Let us consider the self-repression of the political right. And in this argument, I am talking to some of my own friends and hoping they will open their minds to a new thought from me, for I offer it in good faith and friendship.
Where authority and power flow down from above, from heaven to the White House to husbands and ayatollahs, the free and joyful living of people can be quite the enemy. If you will remember the free spirit of those flower children who grew up in the 1960s, for example, you will also remember the harsh attitude that attended to their joys from the more traditional, often more rural, elements of our society. Those political leaders who rose from this time, who lived in this more open and free way--less constrained by the rules of authority--were especially vilified by the authority clan. You need only to think of the special treatment given to the Clintons, who were of this generation and climate, to know the truth of this. And it fits the international pattern, of course, that the woman, Mrs. Clinton, would be singled out for the cruelest stones.
What attracted such hatred? It was their freedom, their sense of equality, and their joys.
Here it is: those in the clan of authority are not given the privilege--the natural right--of living their own lives. They do as they are told, say and think what they are told. Smothered is their curiosity and their healthy skepticism, and also their imagination, joy, freedom, and lust for life itself. When they see others actually living lives, they react with anger, as if someone had cut to the front of a line that, for them, never moves.
What is the proof of this theory? Those enthrall to authority, cowering under it, lose sight of their own lives. They will venerate above all else the symbol of the yet unruined potential of life: the curled-up unborn. The authority clan will have the image of an unborn baby as its flag, and they will claim to honor and defend innocent life, but that will be a great lie to themselves. For they will not be the ones to demand DNA testing of all prisoners on death row; they will not be the ones to demand health insurance for all children, or better nutrition in all schools, or peaceful alternatives to international conflicts. They will be the ones to rail against these things, for the authority clan parades itself as pro-life while it is truly more like a cult of death. Having died themselves, strangled by authority and fear, they cannot wish happy lives for others--they cling only to that magic symbol of what might have been. They relate to the unborn baby selfishly; it is themselves: unborn, unlived, still hoping for a life.
I am not talking about political conservatives. People who follow leaders like Goldwater, Forbes, and Buckley do believe, in the great mainstream of American thought, that government is the council fire of community. They just want it not to be all-consuming. The people we are dealing with today, who are so far to the right of traditional conservatives that it is unfair to call them that at all, do not believe that our government is our council fire of community. They would replace it with a church, a strict family, and, as they have shown us so many times in history, even with a dictatorship that derives from imagined divine powers, and with a reign of brutal authority that sanctions criminal aggressions on other nations, torture, and the suspension of civil liberties. How many times have we seen this happen abroad, and how many times have we wondered if we would have the courage and the character to act up if it happened here--if our own army was turned into a police force against us?
I think every man and woman of us wants to be a patriot to this great nation. How sad to miss your cue when the alarm bell rings for us! How horrible to be enslaved to the wrong way of thinking at such a time of national crisis! We owe it to our friends and neighbors to free them if we can, so they might stand with us.
I will propose a mental experiment to see if we can find a string or two that can help us lead our friends out of this dangerous maze.
Imagine that your friend is very much pro-life and pro-war and doesn't see the illness of her mental conflict.
I think you might notice that this friend of yours lives a slipcover-protected life and has not even allowed herself the freedoms of a good fantasy life. Let's repair that.
Let me suggest that we take her to a good arts district, rent her a studio apartment full of art supplies above a good sidewalk café, find her a lover and come back in ninety days to see if her politics have changed. As she lives a real life, as she explores her own potential, she will learn to let others live and enjoy their lives, too. She will want to help the young woman artist next door who gets herself into trouble. She will even begin to be amused and impressed instead of angered and depressed by the Clintons and other lively, joyful, free-living people of this beautiful earth.
When people begin to really live their lives, the black and white certainties do not turn to shades of gray, but to the million-jeweled hews of a morning's dew. That sparkle is the reality of life revealed. Life is about living, and about helping other real people get through this world with a minimum of pain and a maximum of human dignity. We simply can't do that with authoritarian politics and its deadly abstractions. We can only do that with our love and our freedom to think for ourselves and act individually and as a community.
And that was the example of Jesus, wasn't it? Did he not challenge the organized church of his day, challenge its authority, and overturn its rules that had hardened into cruelties and corruptions? Did he not show us how we might act instead from the love and charity of our own hearts, and, in this rebellion, did he not say, follow Me? Are we not to think for ourselves? Was so grand a thing as the human mind meant to be wasted?
Our founders were deeply spiritual and also deeply secular--a well-balanced condition of the mature mind that eludes today's political fundamentalists. Our founders respected human freedom and the urge toward greater equality. Over the centuries, we have tried to make this nation a better expression of their intent, so that there would be no second-class citizens, no arbitrary authority that limited our life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. And the better angels of that Revolution stand yet upon our shoulders as we oppose the clan of authority, that cult of death, whose cloak of human oppression has cast its shadow over our children's future.
What must we do? We must bring the light of consciousness to people who are enslaved by the darkness. We must show them--make them see--the clear links between the Taliban and the American fundamentalists. It is about power, male power, and subservience. Why can't a young girl in trouble get an abortion in the preferred world of the fundamentalists? It isn't because of the sanctity of life, or the fundamentalists would be acting to preserve life by getting medicine to Africa instead of impeding it. They would be halting executions and building up our institutions of peace.
The desperate attitude of the far right toward not only the unborn baby but even brain-dead people on life support reveals something about their true religion: they have little. There is nothing in their actions that reveals a belief that life is eternal, that there is no death except as a doorway to something better. Their brand of Christianity simply does not relate to the teachings of Christ. The worst of the hate-mongers who misuse the Bible to make million-dollar church incomes and push a political agenda of male domination and hate are easy to spot, for they cherry-pick Bible passages to suit their purposes. They disregard any turning of cheeks, they disregard the fact that Jesus never mentioned the homosexuality that they so fear. They seem not to fear that, as very rich men, they themselves might have a hard time driving their Hummers through the eye of the needle into heaven. They claim that every word of the Bible must be followed, but if they really believed that they would have stoned themselves to death years ago, as they are as sexually frisky and full of covetous looks as anybody else. They forgive themselves freely, of course, even when they promote the murder of foreign leaders.
They refuse a young girl an abortion for the same reason they would refuse her birth control: because in either case she would be exercising power and control over her own future--and such power and control is reserved for the authorities--male authorities--below whom she is to cower and serve and reproduce. It is all about that, and we have to start saying so, so that the far right will no longer have the women marching in its toxic ranks--at least the smarter women.
If I ran the Democratic Party, I would lay it all out in expensive advertising campaigns. I would have the sociologists and the psychologists talking about the tricks of mental slavery that are being used to trick decent Christians and other people into following un-Christian leaders and policies. As with any kind of mental counseling, progress depends on the spread of consciousness--of self-awareness. I would let more and more people, especially the women, come to understand the nature of the lies that surround them and defraud them. I believe they really are for life and for liberty, but they must be given better information, better moral and emotional support.
It would be important to have well-known voices of authority deliver that message--the Walter Cronkites and Oprah Winfrey's of America--if they would ever be brave enough to do so. And here is why the message must be delivered by such voices.
Imagine walking down a street in my Peterborough. You run across a retired couple and start talking politics. You get on the subject of abortion.
"Listen," you say, "the Europeans have a very small percentage of the abortions we do in the United States. They have cut the number of abortions by providing better sex education, providing more contraception, and accepting a more open and honest attitude about the sexual lives of their young people. If your concern is to reduce abortions, surely you must become an advocate of these programs that actually do the trick!'
But the couple disagrees. They tell you "it isn't about doing what works in Europe and what might work here, it is about doing the right thing for the right reason, and following the word of God."
Well, that was a real conversation in Peterborough, though I'm sure they must have been visitors.
If you wonder why the other side of the political aisle seems so resistant to the facts, it is because they are not interested in what works, what is pragmatic; they are interested in obedience to authority. It is nothing less than mental bondage to the cult of authority. This is of course unworkable in the civic arena, where pragmatism is the belief system we must share as our common ground. The only way to break through that problem is if our few national voices of authority will please give these authority-dependent people permission to think freshly about our important issues.
There is another string leading out of this dark maze. Better leaders can make great differences in the life of a society, but we cannot elect them if we do not change from electoral organizing to social organizing.
When I went on a 23,000-mile voter registration journey before the last election, I walked through many housing projects and low-income neighborhoods where no one from the outside had dropped by to talk politics since the last election. The Democrats only come around, I was told, every few years to ask for their votes, but they weren't there to listen to their problems, to help them craft political solutions, and to stand behind them and amplify their voices. These people were of the opinion that, if the Democrats won or lost, their own lives wouldn't really change much.
It is simply exploitive politics to come around begging for votes without giving so much as a crouton in return. We have to be involved all year long, every year, and in every neighborhood that needs political help. That is movement building--not just stumping for candidates.
The residents of Cabrini Green in Chicago, and the people of the slums of Ft. Myers, Miami, St. Louis and New Orleans told me they needed our organizing help and our voices added to theirs--for they love their children too and want decent lives. Many of the streets I walked in New Orleans were later strewn with the drowned poor, as if America had progressed no further than the days of the Titanic, when those traveling life in steerage are never offered the lifeboats. So much criticism has fallen on the president for the flooding disaster in New Orleans, but the Democrats have had a long century to make life better and they have not done so. The New Deal and other programs, offered at a distance, are helpful but no match for a party meetinghouse in every neighborhood to raise the political competency and expectations of the area.
Politics is not just about raising money for candidates. Politics is about creatively serving the needs of your people, and the election is just the report card on how you are doing and how many people you have helped and how many people are following your leadership because you were there for them. We do get the government we deserve, you see, and the crowd standing behind us in critical times is the crowd we have served through the years. People will not speak up about global warming, I assure you, until they first have a warm house for their own children.
So here are my two thoughts. We must help people see the mental traps that they are victim to, and we must do this by telling it like we see it, by asking them to see that the pro-life, pro-war movement is really a cult of death, that fundamental Christianity represents the opposite of Christ's teachings, that authoritarian control and elite profiteering are the strings of the far right's puppet show.
Let us indeed believe that all people are equal, but let us not assume that all political opinions are equal, for some are toxic and sociopathic and require our loving intervention. Let us intervene. Let us stand up in church gatherings, let us confront our friends. Let us use the tools of mass communication to awaken people to the lies that bind them.
And let us return to real politics in the neighborhoods--especially those neighborhoods where we are most needed. As it stands now, people who do not receive the support they need from an ever-receding community are turning to the very churches that have been politically killing those needed government services. This is a dangerous tailspin that we can only arrest with a political return to the neighborhoods. Let us demand of our party leaders that we move from electoral to social organizing, so that there is more rock and less hot air under our candidates as we move into the future.
These are big projects. Do we have enough energy remaining for this sort of thing?
What is it to our souls when we have to just keep slugging through dark places? Why, after all that has happened in America, from stolen elections to the destruction of our necessary institutions of mutual help, are you, personally, still at it? Why, after seeing our country become the international symbol of irresponsible conduct, of torture, of political imprisonment, of destruction to the global ecosystem, are your spirits not smeared across the plaza under the treads of these tanks?
Are your hearts perhaps stronger and your souls deeper than you imagined? Yes, this is what you came here to do. There is no greater gift than to be given a life of meaning. There is no greater heroism than to bravely represent love in a dark time of fear and danger.
We are resolved to help each other. We are resolved to represent love in the world and to follow our national dream.
So look at the situation wisely and know that a happy ending is not to be found under the paper moon of child's brief play. Accept and celebrate the fact that we are deeply engaged in a long, hard drama of global meaning. We welcome the fight. We welcome it, and, by George, we are up to it.