Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We Dissent

One of the democratic candidates for president that I believe has the most potential to help this country live up to its promise is John Edwards. I had supported him in the 2004 primary season, and thought that he would add a great deal to the Kerry ticket. When he campaigned for as the candidate for the vice presidency, however, I felt that his talents were not able to be fully appreciated by the American public.

In the years since the defeat, I was encouraged to read that Edwards was reading more about Senator Robert Kennedy. In large part, it seemed that he was studying the lessons of RFK’s quest for social justice. But it was more: both men underwent transformations due to tragic loses. They learned those lessons that Joseph Campbell wrote of, when he quoted from an journal from a Danish expedition in the early 1920s. The anthropologists on the expedition interviewed an Eskimo shaman, who told them, "The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and it can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone can open the mind of a man to all that is hidden to others."

Recent events in the Edwards’ family life again shows us what strong, good, and decent people they are. A recent interview has shown how difficult these qualities can be for plastic journalists to deal with. They do not always translate well into sound bites or segments for the corporate media.

When I look at John Edwards today, I am reminded of a speech RFK delivered at the Berkley campus, University of California, on October 22, 1966. It was one of his most eloquent speeches, and it really marked the beginning of his challenge to the system that he had come to recognize needed a new type of leadership, so that it might live up to its promise.

I do not know what the "title" of the speech actually was. I am not aware of any books that have its text. But for the students, the faculty, and everyone else who heard it, I believe they would call it Robert’s "We Dissent" speech.

Here is part of it, and I dedicate this to John and Elizabeth Edwards:

"It is not enough to allow dissent. We must demand it. For there is much to dissent from. …. We dissent from the fact that millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich. … We dissent from the conditions and hatreds which deny a full life to our fellow citizens because of the color of their skin. … We dissent from the monstrous absurdity of a world where nations stand poised to destroy one another, and men must kill their fellow men. … We dissent from the sight of most of mankind living in poverty, stricken by disease, threatened by hunger and doomed to an early death after a life of unremitting labor. … We dissent from cities which blunt our senses and turn the ordinary acts of daily life into a painful struggle. … We dissent from the willful, heedless destruction of natural pleasure and beauty. … We dissent from all these structures – of technology and of society itself – which strip from the individual the dignity and warmth of sharing in the common tasks of his community and his country."

This nation needs to listen closely to the message that John Edwards is delivering today. It is a similar message to that which RFK brought in the 1968 democratic primaries. It’s a message that gives voice to the hopes of the Other Americans. It’s the voice of dissent. We need it in the democratic party today.


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