On Courage and Wisdom> Address to OccupyMN> David Harris

On Courage and Wisdom

Address to Occupy Minnesota Protesters and Allies, November 13, 2011

David Harris, Veterans for Peace

 The mostly young people who have been here day and night at Hennepin Plaza have already been tested by cold and hunger and dirt for several weeks and you, like those first rebels on Wall Street and now in cities all over this country, have set a proud example of forceful but peaceful protest in a public square. Congratulations and thanks.

 But tonight you are facing your semester exam. I won’t call it a final exam, because there will be other tests and exams as long as you live and remain devoted to justice. But, for some of you, this may be your first fierce confrontation with institutionalized violence.  And how well we all respond and how well we deal with our own fears is something you will always remember.

 Make no mistake about it, this protest is about to become an act of civil disobedience. Will we remain committed to nonviolence when police are moving in, perhaps with threatening actions more than simple verbal commands? Ordinarily, as Gandhi taught us, and Jesus before him and Martin Luther King, Jr. after him, the commitment to non-violence does not guarantee success in worldly affairs. 

History is full of examples of both failures and successes of nonviolent actions. And ordinarily the necessary training and preparation for an effective nonviolent action takes time, the same sort of time that it takes armies and police departments to teach individuals to trust their teammates.  

 But we don’t have that kind of time and the challenge we face is to stay together and, as the Civil Rights protesters sang in past years, to hold on, hold on, keep your eyes on the prize hold on. And the prize is a great one. If I were a Hindu preacher, instead of an old Jewish surgeon, I would say the prize is the coming of Truth right here on earth. The prize is justice as fairness* rather than as punishment. The prize is equal opportunity for all rather than for only those lucky enough to be born into situations of wealth and power.

The prize is compassion towards friend and stranger, neighbor and foreigner, and to see finally the humanity we have in common even with our enemy. Abraham Lincoln had that vision of peace in another time of war: “With malice towards none, with charity for all.” The prize is love and respect for ourselves and for all that lives and for this earth and this universe of surpassing beauty. The prize is Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to worship in our own way, freedom from want, freedom from fear.**

 So now we become part of that great historical chain of freedom fighters. In the coldest darkest time of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote “Common Sense: These are the times that try men’s [and now we say, “People’s”] souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his [and her] country; but he [and “she”] that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” 

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