Peace Speeches

Select Speeches from Arc of Justice Rally on January 21, 2013 at Malcolm X (Meridian Hill) Park

Here are some of the transcribed speeches by guest speakers this morning before the march.

Ladd Everitt of Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (

Good Morning everybody! Thank you so much for coming out today. This is truly wonderful, I appreciate your being out here on a cold morning. I appreciate your passion for peace. I think if Dr. King could see us gathering today he would be extremely proud.

For me it's about the war at home. The work that I do as a gun violence prevention activist is about the war that's occurring right here at home. And when we talk about profiteering from violence, we have to recognize the role of the National Rifle Association in profiting directly from gun violence that occurs here in our country.

There are gun industry executives that sit directly on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA), people like Pete Brownell, and Ronnie Barrett, and the NRA through its quote unquote "Ring of Freedom" program receives millions of dollars in direct corporate contributions from the gun industry on an annual basis. And that's something we have to recognize.

Dr. King was acutely aware, I think, of the gun violence problem even back in the 1960s. In the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this is what Dr. King wrote describing the situation with gun violence in our country. He wrote:

By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting, and the technique of killing, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.

I think if Dr. King could see the situation with gun violence in our country today, he would be sad, he would be deeply disappointed, and he would understand that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do, to create a peaceful America.

But, and I would say this: I think he would also be tremendously hopeful at this moment that we can finally make some real change to reform our gun laws and de-escalate some of this violence we are seeing at home.

I understand that many of you are skeptical, distrustful of government; I understand that many of you have very real and serious grievances with our President. And I respect that.

But I must say, this Gun Reform Policy Package that our President announced the other day is the most important reform package for our gun laws in the history of the United States. I want to say that again because this is important:

The reform package on gun laws that our President announced is the most important effort that any American leader has ever made to de-escalate the gun violence in this country.

Things like requiring background checks on all gun sales, renewing the ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, which show up mass shooting after mass shooting; better sharing of records between federal agencies, so that people who are dangerously mentally ill are caught by background checks.

I could go on and on and on. This is a package of fifty to one hundred initiatives that will finally help to reduce gun violence in this society to keep guns out of the hands of people who are blatantly dangerous, and hateful, and who do not believe in peace, and who are trying to make this society more violent every day.

We need your voices in this fight, those of us in the Gun Violence Prevention Movement. On my staff are victims and survivors of gun violence who have been fighting to promote these exact types of reforms for years.

I worked with one woman whose daughter was shot twice in the head at Virginia Tech; it's just a miracle she's even alive today. I work with another young man whose mother was killed in a gruesome gun homicide--shot by a man who should never have gotten anywhere near a gun.

Those are the people who have laid the groundwork for where we are today. Victims and survivors just like that prove that President Obama's bill did not happen in a vacuum. Its victims and survivors and other brave voices that have created this moment of opportunity we have now.

But we cannot win without your voice! You are the greatest champions for non-violence and peace that we have in this country, and your voices are critical.

I would ask you for one moment. Whatever grievances you might have with the President; I respect them; I know they are real; but I know that you are fighting for me for a more peaceful society. Lay them down on this issue, for just one or two months. Work with this President to put pressure on this Congress to enact these reforms! To get better gun laws on the books, to blot the power of the corrupt and completely immoral NRA and start moving us to a more peaceful society.

Are these reforms perfect? No.

But I would tell you that Dr. King more than anyone understood, you do not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. He understood that the fight for a more peaceful America would be incremental, and we would have to fight it in steps.

This is a critical step. Please contact Congress when you're lobbying on whatever issue you are lobbying on. I know you're in the faces of Congress. Please, in there, put in a request, "I demand that you support the President's Gun Reform package. I demand that you support this."

Enough is enough! It shouldn't have taken Newtown. It shouldn't have taken Aurora. It shouldn't have taken the daily deaths occurring in Chicago and DC, day after day after day. We should have done this decades ago.

But we are here! We have this moment! We have the full weight of the White House and many more members of Congress behind us today. Help us push! Please!

Thank you for all you do!

Speech by Jean Athey with Peace Action, and Bring Our War Dollars Home (

It's great to see you. It's great to be here on Martin Luther King Day. I'm going to be talking about that more than the Inauguration because I think that's what we should be talking about.

It strikes me that we've sort of sanitized Martin Luther King, that we think of him kind of as a saint. And certainly that's what our media does. We talk about the fact that he did a lot of dreaming. But we've certainly forgotten his radicalism, I think. He was actually very much a revolutionary. He made people very angry, and uncomfortable. He challenged the strongest powers of the day. And he knew that what he was doing was dangerous. He went to jail. He was spat upon. He was called names. And of course, as you know, he was ultimately killed. And the reason was that he refused to stop telling the truth and he refused to stop organizing. He always knew what he did was risky, but he saw it as a prize of living an authentic life.

One of the things that he said, that I treasure so much, is he said, "Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter" (April 4th 1967 Riverside Church). Many of you are probably somewhat familiar with the April 4th 1967 speech that he made at Riverside Church, when he spoke against the Vietnam War in a very public way for one of the first times. And there were three things in that speech that I think are still very relevant for us today. One of them was that he talked about the profit motive behind violence at home and abroad. He said that high military spending prevents us from addressing the critical needs that we have at home. And he said we must fight back.

Let's take a look at each of those things very briefly.

He said the profit motive--the way to maintain stability--our investments account for the counter-revolutionary actions of the American forces in Guatemala, in Cambodia, in Vietnam, in Peru. I think if he were here today, he would say the same thing about the wars that we have been fighting in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, in Palestine, in it's hard to keep up, and now with the pivot to Asia, the so-called pivot to Asia. It's the same thing. The foreign policy is based on the economic interests of corporations. And we fight wars to ensure that the profits of these companies continue.

Martin Luther King articulated that very very clearly. He wanted to change our country. He wanted us to be a country in which people's needs trumped corporate profits. [Yeah!] Another thing he talked about in that speech was the needs in our own country that were not being met, because so much of our money was going to Vietnam.

Today (and he saw the end of the war on poverty), today we are not even talking about ending poverty. Instead of talking about ending poverty, we are talking about increasing austerity measures, and all of this budget nonsense. And the excuse that's given, that why we have to cut the safety net is the deficit; and why do we have a deficit; because we cut taxes for the wealthy, and we have this outrageous military spending in wars.

So it's become a kind of Trojan Horse for us. But Dr. King said that war and military spending was more than an economic issue; he said it was a spiritual issue; he said that a nation that continues to spend, year after year, more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

And the third thing he talked about in that speech is that we must fight back. He said, "Change does not roll in the wheels of inevitability. It comes in continuous struggle." He continually emphasized the moral imperative of action. And I know that all of you who are out here today that you are people who act, and you are people who are doing what he asked us to do. He said, "We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice." And I think one of the ways that we need to do that is to make sure that we're reaching out to all of our allies, making them allies, working closely with them.

Now I think that people have subverted the message of Dr. King. They made him into something of a charitable saint. But his message was radical and uncompromising. He took on the three biggest political issues of his day; issues that we still have; namely, racism, capitalism, and militarism, and he called these the giant triplets and saw them entwined.

So I think that to remember him and to honor him, it's appropriate to do what we are doing today. We should emulate him. A day in service is fine, but a day, a month, a year of protest and fighting against power is what will honor Dr. King. So in our nation today, as in Memphis in 1968, the power elite control the government, and the media (but not completely), and, they don't control the streets, and they don't control us.

So let's fight back!

Mauri' Saalakhan with The Peace and Justice Foundation (please visit

In the name of God, the most Compassionate and the most Merciful. I want to just take a moment on behalf of not just myself but the Greater Muslim Community here in the United States and beyond, to thank those of you who have been staying the course on this important issue of push-back.

It's very important. One of the primary, I guess common, voices of the Algerian Revolution of the twentieth century, which was one of the bloodiest revolutions, his name is Frantz Fanon. I'm sure that many of you here are familiar with that name. He was a psychiatrist. And in a book entitled, The Wretched of the Earth, he said, "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover it's mission, fulfill it, or betray it!"

I think that observation takes on greater weight as we get closer and closer to a point of self-destruction, if we continue on the path that we're on now. Just, not far from here the Jefferson Memorial, and one of the instructions in the wall of that memorial, and no doubt Jefferson who had his contradictions, he wrote these words, probably in the wee hours of the night when he was all alone with his conscience.

He said, "I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just. His justice cannot sleep forever."

We're living right now in a very perilous time. I mean, America is described as this, this great nation of liberty and justice; a beacon for people around the world; and look what its doing! It's very unfortunate and there is a profound contradiction in the sense that the first, this historic President, this first African-American President is presiding over the same war machine that he inherited and he has taken it to new levels. And his second inauguration is taking place on the day of a figure, who, as one of the previous voices stated, was someone who was revolutionary and who spoke out against the deep contradictions that existed then and have become even worse today.

One of the other things that Dr. King said was that America back in the 1960s was the most violent nation on the Earth. It was the purveyor of the greatest amount of violence on the Earth---and it is still! Unfortunately a nation that exemplifies that contradiction, that trait, a nation of liberty and justice for all, that's an absurdity!

And as the French philosopher of Voltaire once said, "Those who can make us believe absurdities can also cause us to commit atrocities." So I want to thank you for being here today. As soon as we got the email that this mobilization was going to take place, we sent it out to our entire listserv, and we made plans to be here. I was in New Jersey and New York, and I came back not for the Inaugural, but I came back to make sure that I could be present and a witness for this demonstration today.

The numbers are not going to be as great as the numbers that are downtown, but this is not a numbers game. This is about principle. This is about vision. This is about love! Love of country. And the true love of country is not a blind patriotism. It is doing everything in your power to make your country stand up to the better part of itself, or live up to the better part of itself.

So again, I want to thank the organizers, and I want to thank those of you who came out.

God Bless You!

Leah Bolger, President of Veterans for Peace

Veterans for Peace has been around since 1985, and we've been raising our voices to educate the public about the true costs and consequences of war. I wanted to give a shout out to Jules, who walked from Baltimore to Washington, DC to raise awareness about drones and to honor Brian Terrell, serving six months in jail...

The costs and consequences of war and militarism

I don't have to tell you about the costs and consequences of war and militarism. This is a pretty savvy audience. You wouldn't be here today if you didn't know about that. But why is it that Congress can't seem to understand what we know? What we've been telling them for decades? What our priorities are? They seem to ignore that, and we've heard the excuses. When Obama was elected the first time, we heard, oh, he's going to be a peace President; he's going to end the wars; and he's gonna be transparent. Remember that, he's going to close Guantanamo? Remember that, he's going to look out for the people?

Well, and then the anti-war movement sort of faded away. And we kind of regressed and we sat back on our laurels and said, oh great! We've got a progressive in office. Now we can just wait for the peace to happen. Well, we know that didn't happen. We know that that didn't happen, and now, this man has been re-elected, and some people say, well, he's the lesser of two evils. We can't imagine what Mitt Romney would have been like in office.

No more excuses: time to be working for the people

But we know that now there is no excuse. Now those democrats and those so-called liberals and progressives have got no reason to not be out there on the streets with us and fighting for what we deserve, we earned, we need, we are entitled to. So they don't need to worry about, well, we've got to be re-elected.

But now it's time to be working for the people. I was on a radio show yesterday with Reverend Jesse Jackson; I had the privilege of being interviewed by him. And we were talking about the back and forth between Obama and Martin Luther King. And he was talking about how we still have to fight, and poverty, and the difference between rich and the poor is greater than its ever been; and we still have this big...we have to fight for it.

And I thought, well it's true, what a sad commentary! That people have to fight on the streets for healthcare, for food, for shelter, for education. These are basic human needs. They should be God-given to us. We should have them. We are entitled to them. We are supposed to be the richest country in the world!? And people are going to bed hungry!? People are sleeping under bridges!? What is wrong with that!?

Values and priorities problems

Now the federal budget is a moral document. Marion Wright Edelman[1] once said, "We don't have a money problem in America. We have a values and priorities problem in America!" We've got plenty of money. We're just spending it on the wrong things!

But it's not us! It's not you or me that has the values and priorities problem, because we have been demanding, we have been telling Congress for years. There's a National Opinion Research Center in University of Chicago that does a poll every, a survey, a scientific survey, every year asking people about their 22 categories, and they ask people where would you like spend your money?

And the number one and two, the number one and two categories on where people would like to spend their tax dollars are, tell me?

Education and healthcare! And they've been the number 1 and 2 ever since they started doing this survey. Education and healthcare.

Congress is supposed to represent the people, not lobbyists

Now out of 22 categories, where do you think defense falls in there? 18. Not even in the top ten. And I call it defense with quotes, because you know it's not defense, it's offense. And we should call it the Department of War because that's what it is. The Department of Military-Industrial Complex. The Department of War Profiteering. (The Department of Murder. That would be another good name for it).

But, so we know where our priorities are, so why isn't Congress listening to it? So now it is time to demand, to stand on the tables and chairs, and in their offices, and in their face, and say, "We demand! You need to be afraid of us, not the lobbyists! You need to be afraid of the power of the people!"

And that's what they need to be afraid of, not of being re-elected, because of what we demand.

So I tell you, and you all are activists, and this is what Martin Luther King was about, and I will finish with this one thing, with this anecdote about on the radio show a caller called in, and she was talking about this day of service. Well that's fine and dandy, and Dr. King would appreciate voluntarism, of course! But, she said, Dr. King would be out in the streets! He would be raising hell! He would be outraged about what's happening in this country under the leadership of President Obama. And he would, Dr. King, would be on the forefront today just as he was when he was alive working for the people, working for justice. So I urge you to keep in the streets, keep up the level of the energy.

Even though we don't have a big crowd, we are a righteous crowd, and we are on the side of right, and Right Makes Might!

Thank you very much.

Footnotes: [1] Founder of Children's Defense Fund (

Peace Speeches comes from recordings on location by Speeches are the respective copyright of each speechmaker. This publication is for educational purposes only, and any quotes must be cited according to proper citation methods.

Peace Speeches