In Sorrow, In Hope: Let America Be America Again
January 20, 2005
Included here is a welcoming speech delivered on behalf of PAIPN in LOVE Park in Philadelphia, followed by the text of the Hughes poem, followed by some "press clippings" about the events.
Good morning. I'm Susan Windle of Restoration Church in Mt. Airy, and I stand here today on behalf of the Philadelphia Interfaith Peace Network. We are a network of people from diverse communities of faith who have come together to wrestle, struggle, and pray toward the emergence of a more peaceful city, region, and world. Together we reaffirm a progressive religious vision. We challenge the notion that the policies of this Administration are tied in any way to the moral values at the core of the religions we know.
It is 11:45. In minutes George W. Bush will be inaugurated once again to the presidency of these United States. We have called you here today in sorrow and in hope, in anguish and in faith.
At twelve noon, the time of Swearing In, the tower will chime, our bell will gong and we will stop what we are doing and stand together in silence, listening. We know that peace and true democracy are created and sustained, not by violence, but by listening. And true listening means listening to all voices, not only the most powerful, not only the voices we may want to hear. In the spirit of that listening, then, we, along with others across the nationin New Orleans, Louisville, Kentucky, Berkeley and Santa Ana, CA, New Haven, CT, Orlando and Sarasota, FLA, Grand Junction, Colo, North Bend, WA, East Lansing, Mich, Omaha, Nebraska, and on the steps of the US Consulate in Florence, Italywill be sharing the reading of Langston Hughes poem, Let America Be America Again. Ill say more about how we are going to do that in a moment.
But let me first give credit to those who inspired this. The public reading of Hughes, simultaneous with the inaugural oath and address—came from Artists and Writers for Peace of Berkeley California.(Hello to our friends in Berkeley!) From this group, the call went out to people all over the country to make this reading a part of their Inauguration Day activities. And so we will raise our as one to drown out the pontification and lies that emanate from our nations capitol [this] day
Democracy is about listening; it is equally about raising our voices. We raise our voices here today, not in shouts, but in the soft, strong lines poetry, with the fire and the wisdom of a deeply American poet and prophet.
Let America Be America Again was first published in 1936. In the words of our Berkeley friends, It speaks to us today with a voice both critical and hopeful. And God knows, we need the criticism and hope, we need the pained voice of lament, the powerful voice of resistance, and the hopeful voice of vision if we are to create an America that truly fulfills its dream. We can find all of this in the many-layered voice of the poet.
The poem is more than a poem—its a prayer. And we who are reading today are doing more than reading. We came here to pray for our country, and we hope you will join us.
The reading of the poem will be a shared experience, one in which well make room for all of you who want to participate. Beginning with members of our network, and continuing with you, we will each take turns saying pieces of the poem until its finished. We'll repeat the poem until the last voice has been heard.
POEM BY LANGSTON HUGHES
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sing
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early sea
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
From The Jewish Exponent (Philly's Jewish Press)
City Hall Sees Disgruntled Crowd on Inauguration Day
Rachel Zuckerman Staff Writer
As the 43rd president was reinstated for a second term among much pomp and circumstance on Jan. 20, a contingent of Philadelphians took to the streets to voice its flagrant disapproval.
Although some 500 local residents literally turned their backs on the inauguration at the Turn Your Back On Bush demonstration, where protesters stood backward on Pennsylvania Avenue in the nations capitol hundreds battled the frigid weather here in Philadelphia to attend several local events.
"It's important no matter where we are to show that religious people are not synonymous with the war and occupation", said Ethan Genauer, who attended a noontime rally in Center Citys Love Park.
The 25-year-old Shalom Center intern was one of 60 who congregated on the salt-covered concrete for an event sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Interfaith Peace Network, a group that includes Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Muslim organizations, as well as the Shalom Center.
Bundled in layers of clothing, participants observed a moment of silence to mark the moment Bush was sworn in, then took turns reading stanzas from the Langston Hughes poem Let America Be America Again. The event concluded with the crowd singing This Land Is Your Land. (...more in story)
From The Philadelphia Inquirer Wed, Jan. 19, 2005, "Smash-mouth look at start of 2nd Bush term: It's our Inauguration Blitz Package"
By WILLIAM BUNCH
If you can't make it to Washington, the Philadelphia Area Interfaith Peace Network will gather in Center City's Love Park at 11:45 a.m. Participants are planning to take turns reciting stanzas of Langston Hughes' poem "Let America be America again!," followed by a moment of silence at noon.
Of course, it's more fun in New Orleans. There, anti-Bush partisans are planning a jazz funeral titled "A Wake for Peace" that will march into the French Quarter at the same hour that Bush is sworn in.
From The Philadelphia Inquirer Fri, Jan. 21, 2005, "Protesters are seen and heard near and far: Demonstrators were on the parade route in D.C. and in the audience. In cities around the nation, protesters also met."
By Frank Davies and Benjamin Y. Lowe
Inquirer Staff Writer
WASHINGTON - Jeers competed with cheers and militants mixed uneasily with mink coats as thousands of demonstrators lined the inaugural parade route yesterday to voice their opposition to President Bush.
The mostly peaceful protesters staged events ranging from a "die-in" by 17 people near the White House to a group action by Turn Your Back on Bush, whose members did just that as the President passed by.
At Seventh and D Streets, two blocks from the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, a small group threw sticks, oranges and other objects at police, who used pepper spray as they waded into the group. One man was arrested for assault.
In all, about a dozen people had been arrested by early evening, most for trying to penetrate various barricades.
Sharpshooters lined the roofs of the Labor Department and other buildings; mounted police and others with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the parade route; and soldiers screened the public at dozens of checkpoints.
Anti-Bush organizers worried that the unprecedented security, with 100 blocks locked down and checkpoints everywhere, would stifle dissent. But they found varying ways to make their presence known.
Hannah Miller, 28, a free-lance writer who had come with a group from the Philadelphia International Action Center, conceded that Bush generally has ignored his critics, but said that would not dampen her efforts.
"Democracy requires that we continue to speak out, despite all his efforts to silence us," she said while waiting at a checkpoint. "I do think he has a vague concept of public relations. Look at his cabinet and his response to the tsunami relief. Some things get heard - your noise just has be deafening."
Making plenty of noise at the parade's Third Street and Constitution Avenue starting point, hundreds of sign-wielding protesters chanted, "Shame, shame," and, "Four more wars," as Bush's motorcade passed. One man played Taps on a trumpet while two others unveiled a large, flag-draped cardboard coffin.
Among many who had traveled from the Philadelphia region was Michael Berg, whose son, Nick, a West Chester businessman, was taken hostage and decapitated by Iraqi insurgents last spring.
"People showing up is an expression of the frustration that the majority of Americans are feeling about this war," Berg said. "I don't expect Bush to listen; he's an unchangeable force. But I think the American public is slowly beginning to see his true intentions."
Alyse Aratoon, 37, of Los Angeles, said she "just had to make" the cross-country journey. "I wanted to let everyone know that many people oppose his hypocritical policies," she said, holding up a sign that said "Anti-Abortion but Pro-War?"
Signs ranged from humorous to rancorous: "1,369 US Dead in Iraq - Party On, George," "What Would Jesus Bomb?," "Inaugurate, Then Impeach," "Nope, No WMDs Here," and "Real Eyes Realize Real Lies." A block away, several hundred protesters who had secured a permit for their own bleachers chanted, "No peace, no justice," as the motorcade sped by.
Three blocks from the White House, several protesters burned a flag and rushed a security gate, angering fur-coated Bush backer Kelly Martin of McLean, Va., who snapped, "That was anti-American."
People who had no strong political views but just wanted to see history had a difficult time getting close to the parade.
"Security is really intense; and there are more protesters than I expected," said Mary Kate Moore, 16, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Demonstrators and parade ticket-holders alike had to pass through two security zones to get to the parade route. Traffic was not allowed in the first zone and, at checkpoints leading into the second, everyone was subjected to an airportlike inspection. Some sites were so backed up that protesters and even ticket-holders gave up.
"It's too much of a hassle," said Charles Lane, 70, of Lancaster. Instead of staking out the parade, Lane and two other members of the Lancaster Coalition for Peace held up their anti-Bush sign at the corner of Sixth and D Streets.
At times, protesters who lacked numbers made up for it with good positioning. At the Capitol, as Bush neared the end of his inaugural speech, a handful of protesters stood up, and one - a large man with a brown overcoat and a booming baritone - began to loudly boo.
The booing was clearly audible to Bush and those around him, and soon the crowd began a "U-S-A, U-S-A" chant to drown it out as police moved in on the booer, pinned his arms behind him, and led him away.
Elsewhere in the nation, there were protests, including a "jazz funeral for democracy" in New Orleans' French Quarter and a reading in Kentucky of the names of dead Americans and Iraqis.
"We want to spend today reminding this country, this administration, that people are dying," said veteran Steve Morse, standing outside San Francisco City Hall by a poster that read, "To Party Big While Our Troops Die Is Obscene."
In Philadelphia, 50 protesters from the Philadelphia Area Interfaith Peace Network gathered at noon in Love Park for a period of silence to mark the swearing-in ceremony. They heard readings of the Langston Hughes poem "Let America Be America Again" and the ringing of a peace bell.
"The essence of the witness is that the reinauguration of President Bush for another four years is something to be lamented, not celebrated," said Robert Smith of the Brandywine Peace Community.
About 15 people connected to the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network held an evening commuter-hour protest at the clothespin sculpture at the 15th and Market SEPTA stop.
"The whole point is we don't agree with the way Bush is using the money for war," said demonstrator Marlene Santoyo, a retired Philadelphia public school teacher. "We think it should be used for human needs, not for war."
Inquirer staff writers Rory Sweeney and Frederick Cusick contributed to this story. It also contains material from the Associate Press.