Preface to America Will Be!

By Vincent Harding

Near the end of his thoughtful preface to this dialogue, President Ikeda makes a statement that is characteristic of the man and his vision, a statement that caught my attention and reminded me why I constantly found such pleasure in our long-distance conversation: “We who live in the twenty-first century have a mission and a duty to study the great spiritual struggles of our predecessors and open a new path forward.” This urgent encouragement has been on my mind a number of times since our dialogue ended. (Will it really end, or will it continue in many manifestations for the rest of our lives?)

One important opportunity to respond to my brother Ikeda’s challenge opened up even before we closed off this stage of our conversation. Not long ago, a group of men and women deeply involved in the twentieth-century human rights struggles of our country decided to bring ourselves together as a National Council of Elders. ne of our major reasons for coming together was to make available to a younger generation whatever we could share of our long experience in working for a “more perfect Union.”

Just as we were organizing the Elders, we learned that a new generation of young people was coming together, calling itself the “Occupy movement” and focusing especially on the great and growing income inequities in America and the unjust political domination accompanying this. What we Elders discovered was that the young Occupy organizers were eager to talk with us, to share experiences, to learn, and to teach.

In a sense, we have engaged in serious dialogue with our children, and we Elders are glad to see that members of the Occupy generation have now volunteered their time and resources to assist fellow citizens who suffered great personal and property losses in our recent storm on the East Coast.

Of course, the most prominent of our children was not in the Occupy movement but in the White House. Remembering some of the dialogue President Ikeda and I shared about the possibilities that Mr. Barack Obama represented for America and for the world—and feeling a real sense of connection to this young man in my role as an Elder and as a carrier of the African American portion of his story—I have paid close attention to him.

In the course of his first term, I reminded myself and others that it is essential for us to believe that “We the People” have great responsibilities in a democracy. And occasionally, I wrote to my nephew/brother/son in the White House. Recently, I wrote to encourage him in a difficult time, the time after his reelection, a period of great financial and political difficulty. As I often do, I reminded my adopted son of the powerful words he had spoken some time before: “We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” When he is at his best, I believe that my nephew/ son really believes these words and wants to live them out with us. So, I wrote to him:

Do not be afraid, my son. Do not be afraid to speak the names of the poor, to shape a new future with them, and with all this diverse, beautiful, and motley crew that is coming to make up our nation again. I think that’s what our most progressive eighteenth-century “founder” Tom Paine meant when he said, “We have the power to begin the world over again.” I’m sure that’s what our beautiful brother Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he kept calling at the end, “America, you must be born again.”

I don’t know whether my brother/son/nephew Obama has seen any of my letters. But I do believe that this is the direction my brother Ikeda was pointing to when he urged me and all of us to “open a new path forward.”

Let’s go.

Dr. Vincent Harding

Notes

1. The National Council of Elders was founded by the Rev. James Lawson, Dr. Vincent Harding, and the Rev. Phil Lawson and comprises veterans of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement, the immigrant rights movement, and the gay rights movement. The goal of its members is to continue their work in social justice and impart the wisdom of their experiences to a new generation of social justice activists. For more information, see <http://www.nationalcouncilofelders.com/index.html>.

2. The phrase “more perfect Union” references the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union. . . .”

3. Hurricane Sandy was a Category 3 storm that struck portions of the Caribbean and eastern United States in late October 2012. It became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, with winds spanning 1,100 miles. Damage was estimated at nearly US$75 billion.

4. Remarks by President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress on health care, September 9, 2009, U.S. Capitol. See <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-to-a- Joint-Session-of-Congress-on-Health-Care>

 

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