Monday, May 3, 2010

My Speech at the International Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World

In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful:

Friends, distinguished delegates, members of the international activist community, and leaders in the global struggle for the abolition of all nuclear weapons:

It is a great honor for me to stand before you today, as a person of faith and an advocate of nonviolence and disarmament, and to share with you some of my ideas about the relationship between the global movement for nuclear abolition and the central message of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We have heard this great message, and we come from communities around the globe, to gather here. We are veterans of the direct actions at nuclear weapons test sites, and at the military bases from which these engines of mass killings might be launched. We have assembled to shut down the laboratories involved in senseless and immoral research to maintain the nuclear danger for the sake of paychecks for scientists, and more profit from the altar of the god of militarism that they serve.

I am aware, as are all of you, that a little more than 43 years ago, Dr. King stood at the pulpit of this very church to articulate his opposition to the U.S. war in Indochina. His prophetic words were heard then by many, some of whom wished that his message could have been limited to the realm of the fight for racial justice.

War has not yet been abolished, any more that economic injustice and racial oppression have ceased to exist over the last four decades of human history. But as I witness the sight of you-hundreds of my fellow abolitionists and nonviolent workers for the abolition of nuclear weapons- I am reminded that we are not here simply among each other; We, the living, are joined by a cloud of prophetic witnesses:

The lives of the hundreds of thousands of incinerated human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are here with us.

The untold victims of the horrors of radiation poisoning in the world

The generations of indigenous communities that are scarred and wounded from contaminated water, soil, and air are with us;

The children of Pakistan and India, and even Russia and China and the United States condemned to lives of brutal poverty and neglect because of the twisted priorities of militarism and the insanity of a continued arms race, are with us.

And the enormous spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. is with us as well.

We call to mind the words of our nation's most noble Apostle of Peace that we are, indeed, bound together inextricably in a garment of mutual destiny. Never before, in the history of human life on this planet, have so many billions of souls been inter-connected in a common destiny because of the single, transcendent threat of global annihilation posed by the intentional or accidental detonation of atomic weapons.

And indeed, it is more true now than it has ever been that our choice, as inhabitants of this fragile planet, is not the choice of violence versus nonviolence, but that of nonviolence versus nonexistence.

But while the moral imperative for abolition remains unchanged in the 42 years since the assassination of Dr. King, it behooves us to consider both how the specific nature of that threat has changed, and how the challenges facing us as a global abolition community have changed as well.

The old bipolar world of Dr. King's lifetime, dominated by Soviet and U.S. power has been radically transformed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, by the addition of new nation states to the nuclear weapons club, and by the proliferation of new generations of tactical nukes and the real, and growing, threat of the possession of these weapons by terrorists.

These complex new relationships and changing geopolitical realities require the same steadfast commitment to our unchanging vision of a world made safer from the threat of nuclear war. But these new challenges also compel us to re-examine our forms of organization and the way in which we convey our essential message to the world.

We acknowledge that the NPT was a major and positive step in the direction of the eventual abolition of all weapons, and that the evolving body of international law plays a central role in what must become a different, and more hopeful, future for our species and our planet.

Dr. King was aware of the need for new laws to govern the conduct of individuals and nations and the nations of the world, but changing laws, while necessary, is never sufficient. What was necessary for Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi, and what is taught by great living moral teachers like the Dalai Llama and Daisaku Ikeda, , is nothing less that the moral re-education of global civilization itself, rooted in the great tradition of nonviolence.

The prize that we must continue to keep our eyes on is nothing less that the a compete spiritual transformation of the human community, and one that must be led not by governments or changing international agreements, but by civil society itself. And WE are that civil society!

What took place in the U.S. civil rights struggle, and what must continue to take place in our own work, is the passionate, relentless, and uncompromising struggle for the human soul, linked with the political and tactical wisdom that comes from our triumphs as well as our failures, and from recognizing which winds have shifted, and which continue to blow.

The social movement with which Dr. King is intimately connected is, of course, the movement for civil rights and racial equality in America. But that movement, in the most comprehensive and holistic sense, was a struggle that linked together an analysis of, and a response to, THREE forms of oppression: racism, economic class oppression, and militarism.

It is not possible to truncate King's analysis and conveniently pigeon-hole his vision into only one form of social protest, because all three of these evils are inseparable. And the lesson to all of us is clear: we cannot simply oppose nuclear weapons. We must be front-line activists in linking the issue of abolition to the broader issue of anti-militarism and opposition to the global war system itself, with a deep concern for racial and economic justice for the oppressed peoples of the earth.

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