Published on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
'Great Leaders Lead from a Better Vision of a Possible Future'
by Doris Granny D Haddock
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Thanks to the staff and members of faculty and to President Prince, and to all of you graduates who chose me to be your speaker. I hope my message will be up to the occasion.
I am sure there were times in your years here at Hampshire when you doubted you would ever see this day. But you kept going, one step at a time, and here you are. Sometimes all you can do in life, in the harder moments, is to put one foot in front of the other. You will always come to some new victory, despite your darkest worries and despair.
We--all of us--sincerely congratulate you.
Today will stay in your memory as a reminder that you have the power to shape your own life. That is not small change in your pocket; it is a great and golden treasure.
For it is the loss of faith in our personal power that drives the woes of the world.
When I was a child growing up in New Hampshire, my father worked in a furniture warehouse. It was modest work, but he gave it all his honest muscle, and, with what he earned, he knew he would be able to build a house and provide for his wife and five children, which he did beautifully. He felt in control of the future, and that gave him the emotional freedom to be a good citizen and a good neighbor.
When we feel insecure in our power to take care of our families and direct the future of our own lives, we fall into a kind of social mental illness that encourages us to distrust and then hate other people and work against their interests.
Radical religious leaders—unlike the wiser men and women of their faiths—promote that hatred when they make people feel powerless; when their people are made to believe that all power comes from some selfish, egomaniacal God who shares none of His power with His people. With some shared power from on High, might not the people be able to shape a happier world—a world where the beautiful differences of lifestyle and belief are tolerated and celebrated--like so many different birds and flowers in God’s garden?
When people are made to feel powerless, either by religious despot or political preacher, they feel despair, even if they disguise the anxiety and pain of that powerlessness as piety or as patriotism--or both.
The current effort by zealots to pass laws against the interests of gay people is a good example of all this. We have had gay members of our society for as long as there are human records, but that does not stop some people from thinking it is suddenly new and dangerous and in need of suppressing. They do so partly out of sheer ignorance, of course, but their motivations are grounded in fear of their own powerlessness. The coming and going of anti-gay politics is a simple and accurate barometer of how much power is being stolen from the people by political leaders and their business partners.
In the Germany of the 1930s, when politicians began to pass measures harmful to minority groups, most especially the Jews, but also gays and gypsies and others, the average German was struggling to survive in a worldwide depression that came on the heels of the economic catastrophe in Germany following the First World War.
It was not enough to be a hard worker in a furniture warehouse or anywhere else. Monetary inflation reached such an extreme that people literally carried cash around in bushel baskets to pay for their groceries —if they had cash at all. How could parents feel that they were in control of their children’s futures and happiness? They could not. And, for the master politicians, it was an easy trick to redirect that insecurity and anger away from themselves, who were indeed the guilty parties, and toward sacrificial victims.
That is what is happening in the United States today. The best jobs of our middle class have been wiped out by big box stores, the exporting of our jobs and the tearing down of all the garden walls of protective tariff. It continues in a way that gives people great fear for their own futures. Our safety nets, such as Social Security and our Bill of Rights, are being cut from under us, for the financial benefit of a few.
If the great majority of America’s are feeling insecure and fearful of the future—of their children’s futures--what might the master politicians do to redirect that fear? Well, you have seen misdirected into piety and false patriotism.
You have seen it with your own eyes. People take their anger out with ballot measures against their gay neighbors. They de-fund our poverty programs and public schools. They intrude on the privacy of people in their most personal decisions of life and death, depriving them of their power over their own lives and bodies. They applaud the attack of other countries on false evidence and they allow the mistreatment of their men, women and children of those countries with mass killings, torture, and a shedding of the Geneva Convention.
They meekly allow the anthrax attack on the minority leaders of our Congress so that those leaders will step to a more military march, and they accept the fact that this attack, made with the most traceable of chemicals, has produced no arrests.
They accept that, in the last election, electronic voting machines gave a five percent deflection from exit polls, all in the same political direction, and they accept the fact that this horror is not even reported by the media.
I am not, on this grand occasion, talking about partisan politics, I am talking about our very freedom.
Our freedom comes first from our belief in it. We have the ability to shape our futures. We are in charge of our communities and our nation. We bear responsibility for what happens here. The moment we lose faith in these core beliefs, we are no longer a free people.
I ask you to hold this day in your memory, to remind yourself that you have the power to make a difference in your own life and in the world.
I have to struggle for every breath now, but the air is still free, and you have come into your maturity at a moment when we, your elders, say to you, here is a great nation for you! Here is the land of the free, but, by God, it had better be the land of the brave if you would keep it. You had better be the patriots you now require.
But do not act from anger; the defense of freedom and fairness comes best from a loving and tolerant heart.
Accept no leaders who would lead you with fear or anger—who are forever dividing and punishing the people instead of uniting, encouraging and empowering them. Great leaders lead from a better vision of a possible future. Great leaders—and you must include yourself in this—lead themselves, their families, friends, communities, nations and their world from the great, golden idea that people should be free and should in every way be encouraged to fulfill their highest potentials and live life responsibly as they choose. Great leadership comes from love, and great societies come from confident, mass empowerment.
Throughout your lives, your best friends will be the people who remind you that you are really a genius, that you have great gifts to give other people and the world, that you have the power to be happy and to help others be happy, too. Stick to those friends, and give that service to them in return. Apply the same rule to your political leaders. Do they make you feel your power as part of a great community, or do they make you want to hide in a bomb shelter? You must decide, for we Americans—and this is a hard fact—always get the leaders we deserve.
Not long ago I read from the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. I was arrested and jailed for doing so. As I thought that was a violation of my free speech rights under the Constitution, I went back and read from the Bill of Rights. That landed me in jail, too.
I felt freer in that jail, because I had spoken out as a free person, than I have ever felt in the open air, and I am not finished being a free American, whatever happy costs await me.
I do not know what is in store for you. But I know that courage is freedom, and freedom is joy. Be fully who you are, letting the world get used to you—it will. Find a loving community of friends who support your ever-flowering growth, which is a lifetime proposition. And take seriously your role as an American. Understand what it means to be an American. It means to take responsibility for mature self-governance. In a world where the polar ice is melting and atmosphere ozone levels are thinning daily, and in a world where the divide between the very wealthy and the literally starving is growing rapidly, where one child in five goes to bed hungry. We must take our responsible and loving place at the table of power.
Our old revolution against oppression and unfairness is never concluded. It is a joyful revolution, if you will put yourself fearlessly into it, keeping always an open mind and a tolerant heart—for those are the true flags of justice and freedom. Let those lofty banners signify your life now and onward to the last day of your long, happy, meaningful and love-filled life.
In February 2000, at the age of 89, Doris Haddock decided to walk from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to lobby for campaign finance reform and spread her message along the way. She is author of 'Granny D': You're Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell'