For Thanksgiving: A Reflection on Prosperity

“Peace is not just the absence of fighting; a phoenix does not rise out of the ashes of bomb craters or out of the wastelands of want. Peace — if it is to be lasting — must be based on economic prosperity coupled with justice.”
Sargent Shriver | November 1, 1972

Our Quote of the Week links economic prosperity and justice, making the case that we require both in order to build sustained peace. As we mark Thanksgiving in the United States this week, let us reflect on how we can bring about the changes necessary for a more prosperous, just society for all of us.

Running as the Vice Presidential candidate on the George McGovern ticket in 1972, Sargent Shriver gave this speech towards the end of the Presidential campaign. He focused on the imbalances in domestic and foreign policies that were robbing the US, and all countries, of a prosperous society. He pledged that a McGovern/Shriver administration would tackle the imbalances and hostilities between the US and other countries, particularly related to the out-of-control war in Vietnam, to bring about stability.

In the speech, Sargent Shriver states:

“There are in reality two worlds today: One -- rich, industrial, urban, literate, and consumption-oriented. The other -- poor, agrarian, rural, malnourished, largely illiterate, and survival-oriented. The gap between these two worlds should be closing; unfortunately, it is increasing.”
One might argue that these “two worlds” continue to exist within the borders of the US itself, and that the “poor, malnourished, largely illiterate, and survival-oriented” world is not confined to rural areas of the country. The income gap in the US, for example, shows alarming trends. The latest Menino Survey of Mayors from the Boston University Initiative on Cities shows that with the pandemic, US mayors are less concerned with current trends related to rising crime than they are with more intractable financial and social challenges of their residents, including the income gap, financial insecurity, loss of learning, and mental health issues. These conditions, in turn, bring about stresses and hardships that create other dangers for poorer communities, including entanglements with a justice system that tends to be biased against them.

The justice system, in the meantime, has arguably become even less just than it was when Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1972. The ACLU’s research on mass incarceration reminds us that since 1970, the incarceration rate in the US has gone up by 700%, and that twice as many people who have not yet been convicted sit awaiting trial in local jails than are in the entire prison system. And the rate of incarceration is disproportionately higher for men of color, as one in three Black boys will likely be incarcerated in their lifetime compared to one in six LatinX boys and one in 17 White boys. Also alarmingly, the fastest-growing population affected by mass incarceration is women.

As the holiday season unfolds, let us remember the millions of individuals who are living in deprivation and unsafe conditions, who cannot begin to imagine being in a safe, prosperous environment. And let us support policies and activities that tackle the inequalities that make society less stable for all of us. As Sargent Shriver observed:

“The consequences of this neglect are grave. A world in which no progress is being made toward eliminating the vast inequalities between nations cannot be a secure or peaceful world. The harvest of inaction is political instability, militance, civil war, anarchy and aggression. Addressing ourselves to this problem, therefore, is not only the pursuit of social justice, but a matter of our deepest self-interest and self-respect.”

Wherever you are, however you celebrate, may you enjoy a serene holiday season.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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