Sunday, February 17, 2008

RFK speech and the state of our own nation

It seems this country has fallen into some rather ugly habits when it comes to the way we treat our fellows. Whether they are people of different ethnicity, asylum seekers or even other teams on the sports ground. We have sacrificed environmental as well as social values for the sake of becoming more affluent and less responsible. Australians have gained a reputation for being less than progressive in many areas of social and environmental development, and hypocritical in terms of our values and and expectations of others. How do we articulate our disappointment and sadness at the seemingly deliberate degradation of our values and the exclusion and demoralization of our fellow human beings?
It seems to me that we have been experiencing a time of darkness and fear in this country which in a large part is due to the to the manipulation of our response to it by the recently replaced Federal Government.

Kevin Rud appears to have snatched the opportunity to bring us back together and make us stronger by speaking of a unified country. No more talk about 'Mateship' as though it is an exclusively anglo Ausie value, or implying that this is the true and only interpretation of the word. Let's see this country get back on it's feet after having groveled in the gutter!

Last night I saw the film 'Bobby' which was loosely centered around the time of the 1968 US 'Presidential Candidates' election and the assassination of Robert F Kennedy. At the end of the film they played this speech! It was an awesome speech and should be remembered... What Robert Kennedy was addressing way back then was a cancer within American society that threatened to tear the country apart. 40 years later they are still battling the same problems.
The issues he addresses in his speech do not belong only to the USA. They are ours too. Please read this speech and consider what kind of world would you rather live in? The consequences of our actions can reach far beyond the here and now. They are the foundation for the future of our local communities, our countries and our world but most importantly our children. How would you have it?

On the Mindless Menace of Violence'
(City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio April 5, 1968: by Robert F Kennedy)

"Mr Chairmen,Ladies And Gentlemen

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lost their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again."

There's also audio and a slide show on Youtube:


Theresa said...

That's a really great speech, one that I hadn't heard/read before. Thanks for sharing!

Have you seen the film *Crash*? Though it's set in LA, I think it is very potent here in Australia as well... what with the Cronulla riots and the NT intervention and all the racial tension here!

Cookiemouse said...

Yes, life is short and we should value it, as well as value each other, no matter what our racial or ethnic background is.

David J said...

Hi Theresa,
Yeh... I've seen Crash it was ages ago though and I wouldn't mind seeing that one again. That was an awesome film there were some pretty intense scenes in that one.
Far out! I remember just sitting there with my jaw dropping and thinking Wow... that's how it is! That's really how it is!
I thought it was a Spike Lee film but the director was Paul Hagis (he is an activist for peace)
Don Cheadle was in that film, which reminds me of another great film called Hotel Rwanda.

Yeh, right on Cookie... I don't know why it's so hard for us to do this. Must be a fundamental flaw in our nature or something.

Cookiemouse said...

Perhaps its a combination of fear and primitive tribalism. Still there is some hope. Racism has been outed which is a start. Perhaps "sorry" is a step in the right direction.

David J said...

I think there's no point trying to deny our racism, it appears to be a fundamental aspect of human nature. The tendency to distrust or fear others who do not belong to our particular clan must be a basic fear response.
For what has been done and the past policies of Government 'Sorry' is a great start!

On the other hand the speech made by the opposition leader did not amount to any kind of acknowledgment of the wrongs done because he attempted to justify 'racist' actions as well intentioned efforts to help.