We are the National Council of Elders. We are veterans of the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ, Immigrant Justice, Labor Rights and other movements of the last 60 years. We have come together in Greensboro, the birthplace of the sit-in movement in 1960, to birth a movement that can share the torch of freedom, justice, peace, and non-violent action with those who have risen anew in the 21st century.
We are moved by a shared sense of national and global crisis and the resultant suffering being inflicted on millions of people in our nation and around the world. As this declaration will attest, our country is gripped by an interlocking, multi-layered economic, educational, social, political and moral crisis. This is part of a worldwide crisis that reflects the end of the industrial era.
The lack of certainty about what the future holds, the dysfunctionality of many of our structures and systems, combined with narrow-minded, manipulative leadership breeds confusion fear, and destructive reactions. As a new era dawns, we are challenged, therefore, to not only hold political and social leaders accountable, but we, the people, must strive, with love at the forefront, to forge more democratic, just and creative structures and ways of living that are consistent with the emerging era that affirms the dignity, worth and unrealized potential of all the people of our country.
We speak, in this time of crisis, out of our commitment to justice and non-violence and to add our collective voices to the unfolding conversation of this historic moment. We speak out of thousands of years of combined experiences of working for the betterment of this nation and our world. It is with compassion, the scars of yesterday’s struggles, and a deep commitment to advancing the well being of our nation and all humanity that we call upon the people of our nation, including our national leaders to live out the highest ideals of our humanity and national calling.
We affirm our deeply held conviction that the Creator has granted every resident of our country a place on this earth as part of “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” that place ought to be respected by our nation. In our experience, it is the people who must move forward, working for and demanding that local and national leaders work with us to meet our needs. For that reason, we are grateful for the newly emerging movements of young people. We applaud, support, and join them in our mutual struggle for justice and human rights.
Voting is an important tool of democracy, which must be more fully utilized and further developed. We strongly urge all citizens to vote in the coming elections and to intervene where necessary to ensure that all eligible voters are able to exercise their rights in the face of concrete efforts to suppress the votes of people of color, youth, the elderly, and the poor.
As we move towards the November election, we see that the deepest needs and aspirations of the great majority of 300 million U.S. citizens are largely ignored in the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Therefore, we call the following critical concerns to the attention of both our fellow citizens and all of our nation’s leaders who we hope will search for just and viable solutions:
Without exception, we supported the full elimination of the Jim Crow system of racial segregation and abuse. Many of us were on the front lines of that struggle. Today, we are appalled by the extent to which systemic racism taints the interactions of Americans in mundane and unacknowledged ways – in our workplaces, schools, and courts, even in our places of worship. We call on our fellow citizens to bring their moral principles and spiritual insights into our engagement with each other, trusting that through the consistent practice of being mindful of every human being’s dignity, we can begin to rid our society of the poison of racism.
We raise our voices against violence and the ways in which it pervades our national life. The acceptance and propagation of violence has been an essential part of the national culture, from the dispossession of the Native Indians and Mexicans of their land, to the enslavement and exploitation of Africans, Chinese and others, to contemporary wide scale police brutality and massive incarceration. Our deeply rooted culture of violence is increasingly taking the form of targeted as well as random murders; it is entrenched in all our institutions and systems. It characterizes our international engagements, including interventions in Third World countries to seize control of resources and the support of dictators who support US interest and oppress their own people. The United States Government instigates wars of aggression where there has been no threat to our country, and now uses drones, an even more insidious form of war and the culture of death.
Those in power have abused and exploited the environment, rather than co-existing with it or practicing mindful stewardship. This will to exploit, which does not take into account the ways the Earth may be destabilized, has brought us to the environmental crises that we face today, including massive pollution of our air and water resources, global warming resulting in climate chaos, and other threats to the ecosystem of our planet.
Too many citizens have supported these forms of environmental abuses, domestic and international violence and oppression by not speaking out against them. We call on our leaders and our fellow citizens to break with the preference for violence, and to insist that national resources be put to the healing of the natural environment, and to the creation of programs that will bring a higher quality of life for all people, to further insist that funds previously allocated to the buildup of nuclear weaponry and other military programs be diverted to the repair and building up of the national infrastructure, educational system, health and welfare services, all of which will provide much-needed employment for the millions of jobless among us.
We acknowledge that the reality picture we have painted is challenging and reflects a period of danger; it can be a cause for despair by many. We urge you, however, to believe with us that inherent in great danger is also great opportunity. Let us seize on the opportunity and in the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “to hew out of this mountain of despair” stones of hope. History has given all of us – but especially the young generation of the 21st century, the opportunity to forge non-violent hearts, non-violent lives that will result in a caring, nonviolent society. As elders, we pledge to our nation and especially to our younger brothers and sisters, that we will be faithful to our own history as human rights workers. We will undertake with you the work we have called for in this statement as fully as our lives allow, doing everything in our power to bring a greater measure of justice, equality, and peace to our country and to the world.
-September 12, 2012