Towards a More Democratic Future

The following is an official statement of the Manzanar Committee.

At the end of World War II, our community was at a crossroads. Faced with the monumental task of rebuilding lives after the so-called “resettlement,” Japanese Americans had to navigate relating to a country that had just locked them away for no other reason than simply looking like the enemy. We knew firsthand the limitations of our constitutional democracy. We knew what American style racism looked like. It was laid bare by the forced removal and ‘camp’.

Our community, nevertheless, maintained our heritage while embracing the most important democratic ideals enshrined in our Constitution. Inspired by and learning from the civil rights movement, our community sought its rightful place in American society by challenging the old status quo. Asian American studies, political representation, and, perhaps most importantly, redress and reparations were won. Equal representation helped pave the way for redressing the wrongs committed before, during and after World War II. Alien land laws, anti-miscegenation laws and anti-immigrant policies were challenged and overturned. Our community helped craft a new moral vision, a new perspective on what democracy looked like.

Today, our nation, and our community is, yet again, facing new challenges and is at a crossroads. How do we survive and thrive in the midst of racial turmoil and strong anti- democratic impulses? Our community can once again choose to embrace our heritage and the most important democratic ideals of our country, just as we did after camp, to help craft a more perfect union and a new moral vision.

In fact, a bold transformative vision is gradually emerging in our country. This vision is embodied in the calls for justice from the Black Lives movement and from the collective outrage that gripped us all when we witnessed children being torn from the arms of their mothers or seeing them caged and suffering on our southern border. Calls for reparations for the African American community, sanctuary for those seeking refuge within our borders or in the calls for ending racial disparities in healthcare, education and for climate justice, are all part of this new alternative vision.

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a profoundly prescient speech at the Riverside Church in New York City. His speech, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” was a powerful anti-war and social justice message, delivered exactly one year before his tragic assassination. Dr. King’s speech is so perfectly suited to our present moment that we’d like to draw from its timeless inspiration.

Following are excerpts from the Riverside Church speech we feel speak to us at this moment:

I am convinced that…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

Dr. King concludes:

…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world… Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.

“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967 Riverside Church, New York, New York

Creative Commons License The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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