The Long Walk Towards Justice in America

The long walk towards justice in America

An address originally given by the Reverend Victor H. Kazanjian Jr., Dean of Religious Life, Wellesley College at a march and rally of local College students at Government Center protesting the Contract for America March 25, 1995

We gather today to place our bodies together with our beliefs that there is something fundamentally wrong with the direction that our political system is taking. We stand together because we must reinforce our words with our actions. We speak together because our silence has already led to the near dismantling of democracy in this country. We march together because our walking symbolizes the long walk towards justice and community that lies ahead.

American democratic society is under siege by those who would use the political systems of this country to plunder its people for personal profit. Cloaked in the language of fairness, these profit seeking pirates are plundering the wealth of this nation at the expense of those who are the most vulnerable. Like a jackal preying upon the weakest of a herd, it is the sick and the poor, the very young and the very old, who are under attack. And while the jackals gather around their fallen prey picking at their bones for profit, we must decide whether this kind of carnage truly reflects what is best about the human spirit and human society.

Before we consider this so-called "Contract for America", we need to be reminded that there exists already a contract in America, a social contract, which decrees that there are certain fundamental principles that must exist for our society to grow and flourish. Foremost in this social contract is the understanding that there must be a balance between individual rights and the common good and that to maintain this balance all members of society must be guaranteed that their basic human needs will be met. The social contract is meant to guarantee that every member of society has food to eat, a place to live, the opportunity for education, and the possibility for gainful employment. In the last decade we have come to understand that this contract must also include access to affordable child care and health care. For nearly sixty years we have been slowly moving towards this goal, realizing that our failure to implement this social contract will ultimately lead to breakdown of our society and the destruction of democracy. There have been and there continue to be many obstacles to overcome. We have fought many battles in this country both military and political to extend this social contract, once limited only to propertied white men, to all people... to men, women and children of all races, ages, religions, economic means, physical abilities and sexual orientations. Much has been done and much remains undone. Yet now, as has been the case so many times before, as we push ahead towards the goal of seeking a just and healthy human society, the ugly specter of ignorance, prejudice and greed once again raises its head, pitting groups of people against each other, demonizing some in the interest of others and challenging us to stand up for the principles of justice.

The Contract for America is anti-American and inhumane. It attempts to invalidate the social contract by playing on the frustrations and fears of middle class America and by punishing those living in poverty. The Contract for America is ultimately the giving up on America. It makes a mockery of the principles of justice and equality established in the constitution and the bill of rights by belittling the role of government as both the protector of individual rights and the promoter of the common good. Some have said that the Contract for America represents the will of the America people, but I am not so cynical to believe this to be true. No, I do not think that this contract reflects the democratic ideals of this country, of liberty and justice for all. And deep down in the soul of the American people, I believe, I hope and I pray that they know that too.

One does not build a just society by punishing the poor for being poor and rewarding the rich for being rich. One does not build an equitable society by punishing women for the failings of men and rewarding men at the expense of women. One does not build a moral society by closing schools and building prisons, and by starving children and feeding corporations. These are not the principles of a just and democratic society. The values inherent in these policies belie the true values of the authors of this Contract. If our children do not have food to eat, if our families cannot afford a place to live, if men and women are unable to find employment, and if we fail to educate all people in this society to the best of their abilities, then we will witness the true breakdown of American society.

While we must continue to oppose these policies, and stand up against this Contract on America, there is one more thing that you must understand about the task that lies ahead. The single most paralyzing phenomena in America is that most Americans believe that their futures are linked with the excesses of the rich rather than with the success of the poor.

It is time to wake up and realize that we are adrift on a sea of uncertainty and heavy winds are blowing and our ship called "the United States of America" is beginning to sink. And while the richest 1 percent of the people in this country may be telling you that there is plenty of room for you in their lifeboats, the facts tell otherwise. There is no "women and children first policy" in the Contract for America. The boat is sinking and with it goes the future of this nation.

We have several choices. We can hide below deck and try to ride out the storm ignoring the gaping holes in our ship... or we can scramble for the few remaining seats that are left in the life boats and turn our backs as our sisters and brothers drown behind us... or we can stand together, across the lines that divide us: lines of race, class and creed, of gender, age, sexual orientation and physical ability. We can come together. We must come together and make the necessary repairs to keep us afloat and then we must start to weave a huge sail made from the clothe of justice and the thread of democracy... a sail which is large enough and strong enough to harness these wild winds and take us home.

I believe that this is possible. I also believe that we must commit the rest of our lives to making this happen. Today we march to plug the holes left gaping by greed, fear and ignorance. Tomorrow let us begin to weave justice and democracy together and insure the future of this country and the world.