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50 years ago today: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at Riverside Church, New York City


The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at an antiwar demonstration in New York in March 1967, days before his April 4 speech at Riverside Church. (Agence France-Presse)

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, some of the most distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it’s always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides. Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957, when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard from Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1954.* And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men—for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954—in 1945 rather—after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed and Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all of this was presided over by United States influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists”? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there was nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western worlds, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led this nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a unified Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be considered.

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroy, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increased in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.


If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.

I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement. [sustained applause]

Part of our ongoing [applause continues], part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary. Meanwhile [applause], meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. [sustained applause] I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. [applause] Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. [applause] These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [applause], and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. [applause] War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy [applause], realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low [Audience:] (Yes); the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.” Unquote.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. [sustained applause]

*. King says “1954,” but most likely means 1964, the year he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Listen to the speech in its entirety HERE

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New Yorkers understand the vital role of street activism. They know how to build movements for the long haul in their communities and beyond.

On Sept 21, 2014, nearly a half MILLION people, led by environmental justice youth and activists in the South Bronx, showed their determination to tackle climate change and demand action by their leaders at the People’s Climate March in New York City.

On April 29, 2017, you are needed again: this time, in the streets of Washington D.C. for the People’s Climate March for Jobs and Justice, being organized by a massive coalition of national and community groups under the banner of the People’s Climate Movement (PCM). The PCM is made up of many of the folks who organized the People’s Climate Marches in NYC and globally in 2014. You can find a list of People’s Climate Movement Steering Co. members HERE and a list of organizations endorsing the April 29 (A29) march (including BCJN) HERE.

There will be NO sister march in NYC or in other cities close to the Capitol. Massive numbers are needed in D.C. We need to show the Trump administration that traveling a few hundred miles is nothing compared to what they are doing to the environment and our children’s future.

However, if you are not on the East Coast within travel distance of Washington, you can find A29 (April 29) sister marches being organized elsewhere in the country by going HERE.

Throughout the first 100 days of the Trump administration, the People’s Climate Movement is organizing a country-wide arc of action, culminating on April 29th in Washington DC in a powerful mobilization to unite all of our movements. To change everything, we need everyone.

On April 29th, we will march for our families, for our air, water, and land. We will march for clean energy jobs and climate justice. We will march for our communities and the people we love. We will march for people on the front lines of climate change, who are being hit first and worst by climate disaster.

All together, in Washington D.C., we will rise as a global community.

Please reach out beyond activist circles, to people in schools, unions, faith communities, and more, and encourage them to join this massive day of peaceful action.

People’s Climate Movement National — A29 website

Facebook page for national A29 mobilization

People’s Climate Movement NY A29 website (details about the NYC mobilization including info about NYC buses going to DC)

Facebook page for NYC A29 mobilization

A29 Social Media:

Find the A29 march on Twitter: @Peoples_Climate

Hashtags: #ClimateMarch (also: #PeoplesClimate)

Bronx info:

For information about Bronx buses, and to help BCJN and other Bx groups mobilize our borough for the April 29 march, please email to: bronxclimatejusticenorth@gmail.com

The work won’t be over when the march ends. To dig deep, and build the climate justice movement in the Bronx, NYC and beyond, please join Bronx Climate Justice North. Let us know you’d like to join our mailing list by emailing us at: bronxclimatejusticenorth@gmail.com



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Fighting for the Climate in the Age of Trump

Saturday, February 25, 5-8 pm

Verso Books, 20 Jay Street, Suite 1010, Brooklyn

Join four organizers and thinkers at the forefront of the struggle against pipelines, climate change, and environmental racism to discuss the future of the climate movement.

How do we organize against climate change in an age of increasing crackdowns on protesters, with an anti-science and pro-fossil fuel federal government? From protests at Standing Rock to national divestment campaigns, we will discuss local strategies to prevent the destruction of communities, land, water, and the planet.

The panel will conclude with a kick-off of NYC’s Divest from DAPL Campaign, put on by a coalition of grassroots groups.


Kate Aronoff—Writing Fellow, In These Times magazine; co-founder of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network and former Communications Manager for the New Economy Coalition

Judith Leblanc—member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance

Patrick Robbins—Co-Director of Sane Energy Project, he has been fighting the spread of fracked gas infrastructure in New York since 2011.

Anne Spice—Tlingit member of Kwanlin Dun First Nation, a doctoral student in anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, and a member of the NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective.

Hosted by Grassroots Action NY, Bronx Climate Justice North and The New Inquiry

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BCJN Stands with Standing Rock in 2017


Dakota Spirit Riders, 12/24/16

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Please join an urgent, national, coordinated day of action in solidarity with the No Dakota Access Pipeline-#NoDAPL movement called by 350.org (the global climate justice mobilization organization) and Indigenous and environmental partners at the request of Honor the Earth, the Indigenous Environmental Network and others.

On Tuesday, November 15, district offices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hear our voices as we stand with Standing Rock. The Army Corps of Engineers granted the construction permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Obama Administration has the power to revoke the permits and stop the pipeline at any time. This is part of a broader wave of action targetting decision-makers and stakeholders at every level, including banks that are funding the pipeline, politicians, and the mainstream media.

We demand that Indigenous rights, treaties, sovereignty, and self-determination be honored. We demand that the U.S. Justice Department begin a formal investigation of human rights abuses at Standing Rock. We demand the protection of water everywhere. We demand that fossil fuels be kept in the ground. We demand that the Obama Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers immediately and permanently cease construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the AIM pipeline in New York.

**** EVENT DETAILS–11/15:

Please visit the Facebook event page for this action, one of more than 200 on 11/15, a national, coordinated day of actions at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district offices.

This event will be peaceful and family-friendly, and will happen RAIN OR SHINE.

4:00 PM — Assemble at Foley Square (southern end of Thomas Paine Park), 111 Worth St in lower Manhattan, for an Indigenous-led Opening Ceremony, speakers, performers, a brief on-site action training, etc.

5:00-on — Those wishing to engage in civil disobedience will be able to do so; those in support will be nearby. We will continue to rally and hear from speakers.

Speakers include: 

Tara Houska, Standing Rock spokesperson, National Campaigns Director, Honor the Earth, Bernie Sanders presidential campaign Indigenous liaison

Roberto Mukaro Borrero, United Confederation of Taino People

Crystal Migwans, NYC Stands with Standing Rock

Pastor Doug Cunningham, New Day Church, Bronx, recently returned from Standing Rock

Michael Zweig, U.S. Labor Against the War

Courtney Williams, Resist Spectra


Monday, Nov 14, 6-9 PM, Riverside Church (South Hall), Riverside Drive between 120/122nd St on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

You are invited to participate in a pre-event training to prepare for the #NoDAPL 11/15 event and for future Resist Spectra actions (opposing the AIM pipeline, our local pipeline struggle). Our experienced trainers will coach us in: organizing, how to be ‘leaderful’ at the action, roles, know your rights, and legal issues. There will be practice time.


Over the past week, thousands of peaceful and prayerful water protectors in North Dakota have been subjected to further dehumanizing attacks, including heavily armed, militarized police in riot gear and armored vehicles using rubber bullets at point blank range, pepper spray, concussion grenades, tasers, and sound cannons. Horses have been shot, and just in the past week, 141 protectors have been arrested. Many have been strip searched, held in dog kennels, and marked with numbers on their bodies. For the most part, the mainstream media has been silent as these atrocities have been perpetrated against American citizens on American soil.

If completed, the $3.8 billion, 1,100-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota’s fracking fields to Illinois. It would pass directly through the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and under the Missouri River, the water source for more than 12 million people.

The pipeline is a direct threat to the life, rights, and water of the Standing Rock Sioux, thousands of whom have been peacefully resisting its construction for months. In a historic show of unity, hundreds of tribes and many non-Indigenous allies have joined this struggle. They are dedicated to peacefully protecting the water and standing up for Indigenous rights, self-determination, and sovereignty. Those engaging in peaceful resistance at Standing Rock understand, too, that all fossil fuel projects must be stopped if there is to be any hope of averting runaway climate change.

Please join us on Tuesday, November 15, as we stand with Standing Rock–#NoDAPL. This is a struggle for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, for protection of sacred waters everywhere, and for climate justice and an end to fossil fuel extraction.


350 Brooklyn
350 NJ
350 NYC
Beloved Earth of Riverside Church
Blauvelt Dominican Sisters
Bohio Atabei Jaguar-Inaruono Yuka Aroa Guaribono
Bronx Climate Justice North (a 350.org affiliate)
Brooklyn for Peace
Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture-Ethical Action Co.
Camp Kinderland
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains
Dominican Sisters in Committed Collaboration
Eagle and Condor Community Center (Astoria)
Essex County Green Party
Food & Water Watch
Guerrilla Republik New York Chapter
Hackensack Riverkeeper
Indigenous Peoples Power Project (IP3)
Jewish Climate Action Network
Labor for Standing Rock
New Day Church
Noble 9 Collective
NYC International Socialist Organization
NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective-(NYC Indigenous academics and students organizing solidarity & support from Lenape territory for the Standing Rock Sioux Defenders.)
PCM-NY (People’s Climate Movement-NY)
Ramapough Lenape Nation
Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
Roseland Against the Compressor Station
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Network
Sane Energy Project
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
Socialist Action
South Bronx Unite
The Peace Poets
The Ruckus Society
United Confederation of Taino People
United Urban Warrior Society, NYC Chapter
U.S. Labor Against the War – New York City Chapter
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
World Can’t Wait

To sign up for this action on the 350.org national Action Center website for 11/15, please go here: https://actionnetwork.org/events/nyc-call-to-action-we-stand-with-standingrock

And to sign up on the Rising Tide/FANG national Action Center website for 11/15, please go here: https://actionnetwork.org/events/nyc-call-to-action-we-stand-with-standingrock-2?link_id=7&can_id=9785037f8174bd555348a62aaef53c48&source=email-answering-the-call-to-action-for-standing-rock-solidarity&email_referrer=answering-the-call-to-action-for-standing-rock-solidarity&email_subject=answering-the-call-to-action-for-standing-rock-solidarity&zipcode=10463&country=US

(Art credit: Isaac Murdoch, Ojibway artist, Onaman Collective)


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Bronx Climate Justice North stands in solidarity with our Native American brothers and sisters and other allies engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Standing Rock encampments in North Dakota. Their struggle is our struggle. Their resistance is our resistance. The future of all people is at stake. The Dakota Access Pipeline struggle is a critically important one for the global climate, for safe drinking water, and for human rights. First and foremost, however, this struggle is about Native American liberation, self-determination, sovereignty, and survival.

Since European settlers first arrived on this continent, First Nations peoples have been subjected to attacks on their sovereignty, theft of their land, and campaigns of assimilation, cultural erasure, and genocide. These attacks against Native American Peoples have not ended. The latest can be seen in the determination of Energy Transfer Partners, the many banks and financial institutions funding construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and law enforcement and political leaders of North Dakota to construct a dangerous and destructive pipeline in violation of Treaty agreements with Indigenous Peoples and against the express wishes of those living in or near the path of the pipeline or along water bodies that would be affected by the pipeline.

The federal government of the United States, which has pursued genocidal policies against Native American Peoples for hundreds of years, only recently implemented, with conditions, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It must be held to the letter, spirit, and intention of the Declaration.

The federal government has betrayed its obligation, under the Public Trust Doctrine, to protect the air, land, water, and wildlife that belong to all, in common. We stand against hydraulic fracking of oil and gas and the infrastructure that supports it. We demand that fossil fuels be left in the ground. We are fighting for a rapid, just shift to a renewable energy future that prioritizes the needs and recognizes the past sacrifices of front line peoples who have suffered first and worst from environmental destruction and racism.

We uphold the validity of indigenous treaty rights, nonviolent civil disobedience, and the protection of nature and natural resources without which our lives and the viability and beauty of the natural world are imminently threatened by corporations guided solely by profit, and local, state, and federal authorities in alliance with them.

We concur with the call of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for a “fair, independent, impartial, open, and transparent process to resolve this serious issue [construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline] and to avoid escalation into violence and further human rights abuses.”

We unequivocally support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and more than 200 other tribes from North and South America who have gathered in unity and in unprecedented numbers to peacefully and prayerfully oppose construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We acknowledge that, indeed, Indigenous Peoples were the first climate justice activists.

If constructed, this 1,100-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline would move 400,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, and beneath hundreds of streams, tributaries, and rivers, including the 2,431-mile Missouri River, which provides drinking water to millions. Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has begun without the required environmental review procedures. It is violating the historic rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, including the right to clean water, and the protection of sacred burial and other ancient cultural sites guaranteed by the Native American Religious Freedom Act of 1978. In addition, the Dakota Access Pipeline project violates agreements made by the U.S. Government with the Great Sioux Nation in the Treaties of Fort Laramie of 1851, 1859, and 1868.

As a climate justice organization, we understand that construction of fossil fuel pipelines endangers the future of Indigenous peoples, humanity as a whole, and the living systems of the Earth. We understand that climate change is a social, racial, and economic justice issue. We stand with the Native American youth of Standing Rock who, courageously and with great foresight, are standing with their elders to protect the waters and lands of the Great Plains, down to the seventh generation.

Bronx Climate Justice North stands with fellow Bronx climate and environmental justice advocates as they stand with Standing Rock. We stand with the growing number of cities, civil society organizations, religious communities, and other non-Indigenous allies that stand with Standing Rock.

We demand an immediate cessation to the destruction of the commons and of sacred Native American burial and cultural sites. We demand an immediate cessation to the abusive, harassing, unconstitutional, and militarized police and private security response to the peaceful Standing Rock protectors – we demand the immediate, respectful restoration and protection of their First Amendment rights. We demand justice, human rights, security, and clean air, lands, and waters for our Native American brothers and sisters and for ourselves.

This is a fight for us all. We are undivided in our need for safe water, safe food, a livable climate, and human rights. We demand a living, vibrant future for our planet. We will continue to resist, and we will support the Standing Rock resistance, until the Dakota Access Pipeline project is terminated.



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BCJN Needs Your Help… it’s easy, with GoFundMe! Great thanks for donating and spreading the word, via social media and email…


Dear friends of BCJN:

Please help us raise funds as we move into our third year by donating to our GoFundMe campaign, here: 


It takes just moments, and is completely secure. 

As important as donating… spreading the word of this fundraising campaign to anyone you know, in NYC, the U.S., or overseas, who would be keen to help a grassroots climate justice organization!

With great thanks,

The BCJN Steering Committee

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POSTPONED, STAY TUNED: Ramapough Lenape: Solidarity with #NoDAPL in the fight against the Pilgrim pipeline–Sept. 25 (stay tuned for new date)


Co-sponsored by Bronx Climate Justice North

Facebook event page HERE

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