Nov 16

"The challenge before America today ..."

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 11/16/2020 10:41AM | Quote of the Week | War on Poverty | Peace Corps


Our Quote of the Week reminds us that unless we place the welfare of humanity above all else, in our politics, commerce, and in all of our systems, we are prioritizing the wrong things. 

In his fiery and engaging 1967 Address at the University of California, Sargent Shriver quoted sources as diverse as Tolstoy, Ghandi, and Sonny and Cher. He also recounted stories from his time leading the Peace Corps and building the programs of the War on Poverty. Drawing from his personal experiences and from world events, Sargent Shriver admitted that there were many examples of injustice, inequality, and violence occurring around us. He stressed, however, that we all could and must have a role in creating a more just and loving world for each other. Shriver placed particular emphasis on love in the speech, stating that although we aren't accustomed to thinking of it that way, love is, in fact a power:

"We aren't used to hearing that word love. Especially when love is mentioned as a power. In the corridors of world power, many things are more potent than love — money is power, consensus is power, votes equal power, military force is power ... Some even say that ... suburbia, plus white backlash, plus advertising, plus TV is power. Yet within a world of riots, and murders and napalm and "burn, baby, burn," some men and women are turning to love."

Note the references rooted in the 1960s, which refer to the growing civil unrest and "white backlash" of the era, as people joined together to protest for racial equality, economic opportunity, women's rights, and gay rights, and against state-sanctioned violence, including the war in Vietnam. It's fascinating to read these words from the viewpoint of 2020, when the domestic demographics and international conflicts may have changed, but the human tensions and causes of protest have not. We continue to suffer from a lack of love and humanity in our systems and in our decision-making, and we are paying a heavy price. As COVID-19 continues to rage out of control in many states, and too many of us still suffer under the crushing weight of poverty and inequality, the time to focus on humanity and on building people up is long past due. "The challenge before America today" remains the same, but its urgency is exponentially greater.

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