Not what I expected…

At times when I’m feeling down, and alone (sort of), and near despair, I go home, in my mind, to Boston to rest up, get centered, and get moving.

Of course, my feeling downhearted this time had a lot to do with the election results.  With the exception of my Missouri rep (ran unopposed), Missouri Senate (token opposition in KC), and US Rep, none of the candidates I felt were the better choice won.  In addition, constitutional amendments that will shrink the state’s revenue and make it tougher for people to vote passed.  Yes, Tuesday night was a bad night.  Wednesday was a difficult day.

And I’ve listened to people share their pain, and I’ve tried to get my mind around my own pain and fear.  And then, two of my Boston (well, Brookline, actually) heroes came to mind, and I took comfort in what they said, some 56 and 52 years ago.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy gave a speech in which he accepted the Liberal Party’s nomination for President.  In  New York State, there are four regular parties, the Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Republican Party and the Conservative Party.  Often the Liberal Party nominates the same candidate as the Democratic Pary, and often the Conservative Party nominates the same candidate as the Republican Party.  But not always.  In accepting the Liberal Party’s nod, Kennedy chose to define what being liberal meant to him.  It did not mean fiscal irresponsibility (the common charge leveled at liberals).  It did mean compassion for his fellow human beings.  Here is a brief excerpt from that speech:

“I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.”  To read the whole speech, go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/jfk-nyliberal/

It is, in essence, a statement of hope and love.  It is rational and reasonable.  It is a statement that speaks to my heart and makes me want to shout “Amen” or “So mote it be.”

In 1964, speaking at the St. Patrick’s Day celebration of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Lackawanna County in Scranton, PA, Robert Kennedy argued for the Irish present, and the Irish throughout America to use their own painful history as excluded people (“No Irish Need Apply”) to guide them into accepting, helping and loving others.  This was a brilliant idea, wonderfully presented.  Growing up Irish Catholic in Boston, MA, I saw plenty of prejudice among the Irish I knew.  Though they may have felt prejudice from the WASPs that ruled Boston at the turn of the 20th c., they were now a large part of the ruling class in Boston and Massachusetts as well.  And, having made it, many saw no reason to extend a hand and offer hope to others, but rather saw them as interlopers.  I remember Barney Frank once saying of Boston that it was no accident that the Statue of Liberty was not in Boston Harbor.  Frank was clearly dismayed at that.  Kennedy, though, called to memory that distant past (not too distant) of exclusion, not as a way to justify prejudice (I have a feeling the Irish of Scranton were much like the Irish I knew in Boston) but as a way to excite compassion and justice.  He notes

“I would hope that none here would ignore the current:-struggle- of some of. our fellow citizens right here in the United States for their measure of freedom. In considering this it may be helpful for us to recall some of the conditions that existed in Ireland from 1691 until well into the nineteenth century against which our forefathers fought.” And he adds:

“It is toward concern for these issues — and vigorous participation on the side of freedom — that our Irish heritage must impel us. If we are true to this heritage, we cannot stand aside.”  To read the whole speech go to  https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ag/legacy/2011/01/20/03-17-1964.pdf

And those quotations, coupled with a vision of my sacred Charles River, have helped me through the past few days.  In the days and years ahead, I think all of us will be called to be witnesses and champions of justice, not some perverted form that favors the few at the expense of the many, but for all.  We will need to find our voice and a way of speaking like that of Robert Kennedy at that dinner, encouraging one another, and especially those who did not vote as we did, do not think as we do, see other instead of brother, to come together for justice and freedom and equality, and let America be America again (as Langston Hughes put it). If you don’t know Hughes’ poem, here’s a link: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/let-america-be-america-again

My initial feeling, in my post election shock, was one of judgment — “how could people be so stupid to fall for this con man?”  “Well, one day they’ll see just how wrong they were, and I’ll be able to say ‘I told you so.'”  Those are hollow sentiments, though.  I do think the country is heading into dangerous waters, but knowing that is not enough.  Doing what I can — speaking the truth as I know it, being a witness to those who have been abandoned or brutalized by an unjust system, and keeping my judgmental tongue quiet for a moment to find a way to get a message of compassion and hope through in a way it can be heard — even that may not be enough.  Judgment and fear have got us into this pickle, and will work no better for us at building freedom and justice.

When there is danger in a village, the village bell is rung, and all the villagers come together to meet the danger and save the village.  I hear that bell a-ringing now.  We cannot afford to let our village, our country, our world down.  Or, as JFK, in his inaugural address reminded America — “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what  you can do for your country.”

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