Tradition Of Community

Posted by Mark Jacobs on Dec 16, 2011
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Late last night, I was writing introductory copy for a soon-to-be-posted KarmaTube video which offers a contemporary remix of the baker's speech at the conclusion of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. In addition to providing a brief summary, we offer three action item suggestions related to the video content, to help the viewer "be the change". One of my recommendations was: "Listen to other great political speeches from decades-gone-by and reflect on the ways that the problems persist, the ideals remain unfulfilled, and the messages remain relevant."

Taking my own advice, I looked-up the keynote address of one of my childhood heroes, the brilliant Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, delivered at the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City. 

This was the speech in which she suggested that her presence on the podium "is one additional bit of evidence that the American Dream need not forever be deferred." And yet, she pointed to America's failure to honor its tradition of communitarianism as the troubling evidence to the contrary.

I was thrilled to re-encounter this speech, not because it was her best (it was not; that honor probably goes to her passionately scholarly address when voting articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974) but because it was easily recognizable as an important influence in the development of my own ideas about just social organization. Whether-or-not I knew it at the time of writing, my own short essay on the diminution of the American Dream was nothing more than a meager echo of Congresswoman Jordan's foresight and enduring resonance. Here is an excerpt of her remarks:

This is the question which must be answered in 1976: Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation? For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future. We must not become the "New Puritans" and reject our society. We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done.

There is no executive order; there is no law that can require the American people to form a national community. This we must do as individuals, and if we do it as individuals, there is no President of the United States who can veto that decision.

As a first step, we must restore our belief in ourselves. We are a generous people, so why can't we be generous with each other? We need to take to heart the words spoken by Thomas Jefferson: "Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and that affection without which liberty and even life are but dreary things."

A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good. A government is invigorated when each one of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this nation. In this election year, we must define the "common good" and begin again to shape a common future. Let each person do his or her part. If one citizen is unwilling to participate, all of us are going to suffer. For the American ideal, though it is shared by all of us, is realized in each one of us.

The full text of her speech and a video excerpt can be found here.

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Comments (1)

  • Viral Mehta wrote ...

    wow, great to get a glimpse into what shaped your thinking early on, and what a resource that site is!