Toward the end of his life and career, Lenny Bruce, perhaps the most influential comedian of the 20th century, had been busted for obscenity so many times that dealing with the court cases became a full time job. It became an obsession. It was all Lenny could think about or talk about. It took over his act. During his performances, he’d go into long rants about his court battles. He’d read aloud from the trial transcripts. Watch the Lenny Bruce Performance Film and you’ll see. He was no longer “Dirty” Lenny and he wasn’t funny. He had become unhinged, unfit to be a comedian.
I had never watched a Trump rally until the other night. Just saw sound bites. I was curious, so I tuned in. Trump took the stage in Phoenix and began his long rant about his battles, his foes, his feuds. At one point, he read aloud from a transcript of his Charlottesville remarks. It was astounding. Unbelievable. It reminded me of Lenny. Trump is unhinged and unfit to be President.
During the 16 minute reading of his Charlottesville statements, Trump was interrupted by a protester, who was immediately led out of the arena by security.
“Don’t bother,” Trump said, as the crowd booed. “It’s just a single voice. And not a very powerful voice.”
Actually, a single voice can be very powerful. Just one voice can change the world. You probably already know this, but if you’ve forgotten, today I will remind you.
Galileo was just one voice. He said that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun. He was tried by the Inquisition, forced to repudiate his view, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. In the beginning, Gandhi’s was but a single voice, and not a very powerful one physically, and yet that voice led his country to freedom through a non-violent revolution that still stands as a focal point for inspiration for all people. Rosa Parks was just one voice, and when she said “No” and refused to move to the back of the bus, she changed the world. Lenny Bruce was a single voice; his obscenity-laden performances were protests against a repressive society that censored free speech.
And Malala Yousafzai is a single voice. A human rights activist and an advocate for education for women, the Taliban tried to silence her, murder her, but she survived. Her single voice inspires the world.
51 years ago, June 1966, during the height of apartheid, Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech in South Africa to the National Union of South African Students on the occasion of Cape Town University’s “Day of Reaffirmation of Academic and Human Freedom”. Many have considered it Kennedy’s greatest speech:
“Each time man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
– Robert F. Kennedy
There is always a ripple when one person with courage stands up and raises a single voice in protest.
A voice that is always angry, that creates division, that is insincere, belittles others, spreads bigotry and hate, may seem powerful in the short run. However, history shows us that such voices are eventually silenced. Truth and justice are undefeated in the long run.
The power of a single voice is encouraging, emboldening. When we unite to make our voices heard, the resulting chorus becomes a potent and unbeatable force for change.
A single voice can inspire the world. A single voice can change the world.
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Phil Ochs had a rather smooth and engaging voice, yet there was a edge to it, provided by his sometimes stinging words. He was a songwriter, a protest singer, an outlaw like Lenny, a revolutionary like Gandhi, a voice for peace like Malala Yousafzai. His is a largely forgotten voice today, but listen to his songs and you’ll hear a voice that resonates with likable temerity and timeless truth. An unsung singer, a single voice…