Hello to Ethical members across the country. It’s good to see you here. I am president of the Ethical Society Board and want to add my welcome to that of James. Right now, you are seeing me in my physical home, but James will work his magic and you will see me at my spiritual home: The Ethical Society of St. Louis.
Here I am waving a sign at one of our vigils. Yes, that’s me under the mask. My title for these Opening Words is “My life as a Protester”. But I will give you the sad news up front, my protest record is definitely wimpy.
One of my first memories from UCLA in the 60s was protesting. Every Wednesday my Philosophy professor joined other faculty in a silent vigil protesting the Viet Nam War. Many students would pass the vigil on their way to lunch or to the Student Union. Somehow, I never got the nerve to drop my books and join my very intimidating professor. Every semester I was in college, though, students went on strike for something. I was never a leader but I showed up.
Like a lot of other 60s kids, I thought we had the answers to everything. I thought peace and love would overcome the sheer crass ineptitude of my parents. I retained my idealism and hope until the Kent State shootings in 1970. After that, there didn’t seem to be much opportunity or point to protesting any longer.
But I am protesting a lot in St. Louis these days. It’s ironic that Black Lives Matter vigils are one of the few ways that members can get together in person in these Corona times.
I am glad and sad that people are protesting again for peace and justice. Sad because the current injustices are so egregious that they just cannot be ignored. Sad that legitimate issues can get you beaten up or whisked away by the secret police. Glad because finally some of the same issues that inspired protests in the 1960s may FINALLY get traction. At lease I hope so. The arc of history may bend toward justice, but it seems to do so very, very slowly.
When I see the picture on the screen, I feel a link to my youthful idealism. But unlike my idealistic young self, now I am less hopeful of quick success. I have experienced enough life to know that believing in peace and love won’t cure our problems. As John Lewis said “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” John Lewis got that right!
So I am hoping that the protesters of the 2020s can make it happen. That the Greta Thunbergs and Malalas of the world don’t get discouraged or flame out. I hope we and they can really turn climate change around. That we do finally get rid of assault weapons. That we do create a that ‘just and sustainable world for all’.
Before I go though, there is one important issue I have to bring up. We need better protest songs. Where are Country Joe and the Fish when we really need them? In the 60s we had great protest songs. Not so much today. Great protests need great songs.
Bye for now. I have recommitted myself to protest! I hope to see YOU on the barricades!