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We are the 99 percent




If you fly in a plane over Europe, toward Africa or Asia, in a few hours you will cross over oceans and countries that have been a crucible of human history. In minutes you will trace the migration of men over thousands of years; seconds, the briefest glimpse, and you will pass battlefields on which millions of men (and women) once struggled and died. You will see no national boundaries, no vast gulfs or high walls dividing people from people; only nature and the works of man – homes and factories and farms – everywhere reflecting man’s common effort to enrich his life. Everywhere new technology and communications bring men and nations closer together, the concerns of one more and more becoming the concerns of all. And our new closeness is stripping away the false masks, the illusion of difference that is at the root of injustice and hate and war. Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ended at river shore, his common humanity enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town and views and the color of his skin.
Each nation has different obstacles and different goals, shaped by the vagaries of history and experience. Yet as I talk with young people around the world I am impressed not by the diversity but by the closeness of their goals, their desires and common concerns and hope for the future. There is discrimination in South Africa (still and around the world), and serfdom in the mountains of Peru. People starve in the streets of India; intellectuals go to jail in Russia; thousands are slaughtered in Indonesia; wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, the defectiveness of of our sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows; they mark the limit of our ability to use knowledge for the well-being of others. And therefore, they call upon common qualities of conscience and of indignation, a shared determination to wipe away the unnecessary sufferings of our fellow human beings at home and around the world.
Our answer is the world’s hope; it is to rely on youth – not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress. It is a revolutionary world we live in; and this generation, at home and around the world, has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.
“There is,” said an Italian philosopher, “nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Yet this is the measure of the task of this generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.
First, is the danger of futility, the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against this enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant Reformation, a young general expanded an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the thirty-two-old-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. “Give me a place to stand, “said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.”
These men (and women) moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers (made) a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man or woman 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 that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
“If Athens shall appear great to you,” said Pericles, “consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.” That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.
(Another) danger is timidity. Few men and women are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. Aristotle tells us that “at the Olympic games it is not the finest and the strongest who are crowned, but they who enter the lists…So too in the life of the honorable and the good it is they who act rightly who win the prize.” I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.
For the fortunate among us, the (third) danger is comfort, the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse that says, “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And all of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.
Our future may lie beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle that will determine destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.
Robert F. Kennedy
From the 1968 Postscript to his book “To Seek a Newer World” and as I recall adapted from an address he delivered at a university in South Africa. Somewhat truncated but the call is clear.
There used to be politicians such as “Bobby” who Jack Newfield wrote may have been the last politician who truly cared for all of us (or he may have been quoting the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan) but the point is made. These words moved me during Bobby’s California campaign for president in 1968 and they move me now and my hope is that they move others still. I walked a mile for Senator Kennedy with John Glenn and remember the last lines from a memoir written upon the senator’s murder: As Newfield, Moynihan and a few other true liberals and Americans walked down the steps from the Lincoln Memorial someone remarked, “We’ll never laugh again, “to which Patrick Moynihan replied, “Oh yes, we’ll laugh again but we’ll never be young again.” Therein lays much truth. Countless numbers of the youth of my generation joined that campaign and felt that after the killing the last and best of our leaders had been taken from us. Or to roughly paraphrase Camus, “The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were all alone.” Our mistake. We did not continue to fight where OWS must not give up in despair, tasting the bitterness of defeat.
This OWS movement must not stop until we win, for I fear if we stop to fight again another day that day will be lost as will the battle. The time is now and this generation and all the rest of us must carry the day. There is too much at stake for all and for our children and their children, et al.
“Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?” ________Albert Camus
Recently I reread Jack Newfield’s classic “Robert Kennedy: A Memoir” and then the OWS movement became news and I searched out my old April, 1968 edition of Bobby’s book. The words above jumped out at me as if he’s speaking to yet a newer generation, OWS. He would have loved what you’re doing as do I. If only I had the health and money to join you on the front lines I would so do. Keep up the good fight and this story can have a happy ending…once and awhile it does happen.
Joe M. Hayes
Del Mar, CA October 13, 2011
“The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

______Alfred Lord Tennyson

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