A Single Voice can Change the World

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…

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The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine

This is like deja vu all over again.

– Yogi Berra

The Los Angeles police successfully cleared out the Occupy L.A. camp from the park around City Hall last night. The cops gathered at Dodger Stadium and then boarded over 30 buses, proceeded to downtown LA and, after some hours, eventually moved the protesters from their encampment, while managing to avoid the violent fierce confrontations that marked sweeps in Oakland and New York. Today the streets around City Hall will remain closed to traffic while they dismantle and clean up the Occupy LA camp.

As I’ve mentioned before, for me, there is a déjà vu quality to the Occupy movement. In particular, I am reminded of Chicago 1968 when police rioted against protesters who had taken to the streets as the Democratic National Convention was convening. On  the night of August 28th, police assaulted protesters in front of the Hilton Hotel while the crowd shouted a line from a Bob Dylan song, “The Whole World is Watching.” Well, most of America was, because the event was broadcast live for 17 minutes on national television.

It was the Walker Commission, appointed to investigate the events, that deemed the reaction by loaw enforcement a “police riot.” The commission’s findings were soon published in a book called “Rights in Conflict.” It was a fascinating read and the book is probably still available here and there in used books stores, Amazon, or EBay.

Eight protest leaders were put on trial for conspiracy for their part in the Chicago protests. One of the defendants was Bobby Seal whose treatment at the beginning of the trial is the basis for the line in CSN&Y’s song Chicago, “So your brother’s bound and gagged/And they’ve chained him to a chair.” Seal was later separated from the others, making the Chicago 8 the Chicago 7, and the whole thing was chronicled in a great book, “The Tales of Hoffman” (referring to Julius Hoffman the crazy right-wing judge who ran the trial), which consists mainly (if I remember correctly) of the trial transcripts.

Another one of the defendants was Abbie Hoffman, who was born on this day (November 30) in 1936. Hoffman was a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”). After the Chicago protests, the Yippies ran a pig, Pegasus, for President.

Looking back on it now, some the statements that Hoffman and his “partner-in-crime” Jerry Rubin made come off as pretty juvenile, but then, it was their intention to be as outrageous as possible. Hoffman once penned a book entitled, “Steal this Book.” I think I actually purchased my copy.

Here, for your edification, and entertainment pleasure, is a portion of Abbie Hoffman’s testimony at the Chicago Conspiracy trial. Mr. Weinglass, by the way, is the defendant’ attorney, while Mr. Schultz is a government attorney, and The Court is the aforementioned, Judge Hoffman.

 

MR. WEINGLASS: Will you please identify yourself for the record?

THE WITNESS: My name is Abbie.  I am an orphan of America.

MR. SCHULTZ: Your Honor, may the record show it is the defendant Hoffman who has taken the stand?

THE COURT: Oh, yes.  It may so indicate. . . .

MR. WEINGLASS: Where do you reside?

THE WITNESS: I live in Woodstock Nation.

MR. WEINGLASS: Will you tell the Court and jury where it is?

THE WITNESS: Yes.  It is a nation of alienated young people.  We carry it around with us as a state of mind in the same way as the Sioux Indians carried the Sioux nation around with them.  It is a nation dedicated to cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have better means of exchange than property or money, that there should be some other basis for human interaction.  It is a nation dedicated to–

THE COURT: Just where it is, that is all.

THE WITNESS: It is in my mind and in the minds of my brothers and sisters.  It does not consist of property or material but, rather, of ideas and certain values.  We believe in a society–

THE COURT: No, we want the place of residence, if he has one, place of doing business, if you have a business.  Nothing about philosophy or India, sir.  Just where you live, if you have a place to live.  Now you said Woodstock.  In what state is Woodstock?

THE WITNESS: It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters.  It is a conspiracy.  Presently, the nation is held captive, in the penitentiaries of the institutions of a decaying system.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury your present age?

THE WITNESS: My age is 33. 1 am a child of the 60s.

MR. WEINGLASS: When were you born?

THE WITNESS: Psychologically, 1960.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection, if the Court please.  I move to strike the answer.

MR. WEINGLASS: What is the actual date of your birth?

THE WITNESS: November 30,1936.

MR. WEINGLASS: Between the date of your birth, November 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?

THE WITNESS: Nothing.  I believe it is called an American education.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection.

THE WITNESS: Huh?

MR. WEINGLASS: Abbie, could you tell the Court and jury–

MR. SCHULTZ: His name isn’t Abbie.  I object to this informality.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury what is your present occupation?

THE WITNESS: I am a cultural revolutionary.  Well, I am really a defendant—full-time.

MR. WEINGLASS: What do you mean by the phrase “cultural revolutionary?”

THE WITNESS: Well, I suppose it is a person who tries to shape and participate in the values, and the mores, the customs and the style of living of new people who eventually become inhabitants of a new nation and a new society through art and poetry, theater, and music.

Lemme tell ya, that trial was a laff riot, which is always much preferable to a police riot or any other kind. At the same time, it painted a portrait of the shape of things in the United States at the time, and it wasn’t pretty. Nor is it now.

So, what, you may ask, is The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine? Well, I’m not at liberty to tell you that. All I’m allowed to say is that it’s similar to Mister Peabody’s “Way Back Machine.”

“Oh, Mister Peabody!!”

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