Address to the Second Annual Day of Artists in Support of Human Rights Celebrating Earth Day
April 25, 1992
The following speech was intended for delivery at the Second Annual Day of Artists in Support of Human Rights, celebrating Earth Day, April 25, 1992. The festival was intended to encourage free expression, a concern for the planet, and also to focus on children. You may think that such a wide spectrum of issues tends to dilute the effectiveness of gatherings such as this — after all, a lot of people are into free expression that don’t give a damn about the Earth — they’ll use their oil-based paints and flush them into their city’s water supply. They may have behaved irresponsibly towards children their actions have brought into this world. Perhaps in response, the earth and its attendant Weather decided not to cooperate. Therefore, the speech was not given. A loss? Perhaps. But maybe these things should be related. That’s the point of the speech, written by one of the administrative staff for the festival, who resigned his duties about a week prior to the event due to political differences with the main organizer. Something about a lack of organization, and perhaps too much focus on widening the event JUST to get sponsors. Whatever. The time is long since past. So pretend it all went smoothly. Close your eyes and picture downtown Boston, City Plaza, a warm spring day. The Hare Krishna’s and Food Not Bombs have supplied food. There are canvases, easels and water-based paints throughout the streets. There is a stage, where drummers drum, flautists flaut and every once in a while, someone gets up to remind them it’s not just a big party.
In the midst of our celebration of music, art, sculpture and artistic endeavor of all varieties, let us pause for a moment to contemplate why we are here today.
We are here today in Boston City Hall Plaza to show our solidarity, to show our common desire for art and free expression and to emphasize the importance of what Thomas Jefferson called our “inalienable” human rights. Inalienable, which means “intrinsically part of and inseparable, incapable of being donated, surrendered or transferred,” which means that even if you are not aware you have them, even if you choose not to exercise these rights, they are part of your being, part of your body and soul, as close to you as your own eyes and ears. These human rights, that could not be surrendered to another even if you wished it, the Declaration of Independence goes on to say, include among them “…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Some would say that the wording of the Declaration of Independence leaves room for doubt as to who is the recipient of these non-transferable rights. The pure strength and beauty of the intent leaves no room for linguistic or semantic argument. Whether Jefferson intended it to be so or not, “all men” must refer to all those among us who have learned to walk after crawling, who have the skeleton and structure of homo sapiens sapiens, who were the children of other human beings, and who reproduce no other species than the human animal.
When we look at it from this level, at the HUMAN level, above the level of the other rights that we choose as surrogates, such as children’s rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, or any other label we may choose to give to less than TOTAL human rights, there can be no distinction between race, color, creed, orientation, sex or age. It is better to say, “I am asking for my rights as a human being,” than to say “my rights as a [child, woman, hyphenated American].”
Your child, the human creation spawned by your human actions, has in these human rights a birthright, just as you have a birthright, just as your grandparents, your ancestors, held these rights. We are all human beings. How could it be otherwise?
“Among which” are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.
“Among which,” meaning there are others, too numerous to list in a hastily composed document which was written with a sense of urgency that was not to be left waiting. Indeed, without this urgent sense in mind, Jefferson might have added a few thousand more items to his list. It is unfortunate for those among us, who tend to read such documents far too literally, that he did not. But we who have lived on this planet, especially those of us in America, have had ample opportunity to increase our “Freedom vocabulary.”
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression — that’s what we’re all enjoying here today. Freedom of religion, freedom from tyranny, freedom from unlawful search and seizure. Freedom to choose the government that helps us to achieve our goals, our pursuit of happiness, and the freedom to speak when that government makes mistakes. Governments are made of human beings equal to us; no better, no worse. It is only natural for them to make mistakes. After all, none of us is free from error.
But freedom is not created by governments, nor should it be denied by them. No “government” has that right, and no people or person has the right to deny human rights to any other.
The freedom to raise families, to provide for those families at a wage which is fair for the work performed; freedom to worship as we please, to act according to our desires, freedom to achieve our goals, to love, live and thrive as we choose. We have the freedom to control our own destinies, to see our children achieve not what we have not achieve, but even more than we could even imagine.
And it is largely with concern for our children’s rights that we are here today. Children are entitled to the same human rights as we, their progenitors. Freedom from fear, from hunger, from oppression and hatred, from abuse and abandonment.
Some might say, enough about human rights, and what about Earth Day? Well, I am just coming to that. In answer to your question, I ask you this: what greater human right can belong to any of us, what greater promise, than that of a planet on which to live?
As long as the seas are polluted by humankind, as long as chemical and other toxic disasters threaten our world, as long as the resources of this planet are ravage and plundered and foolishly squandered, the human rights of every inhabitant on this earth are threatened.
As long as we continue to stand aside and let the travesties of the past continue until tomorrow, we are not completely free.
As long as human beings, you and I, those in government and those outside it, continue to let this storehouse of opportunity, this wondrous source of our every convenience, this beautiful and varied land, this Earth, suffer from the short-sided uses to which we have already put it, then we may have human rights, but nowhere to exercise or enjoy them.
This must then be our call: One Purpose, One Planet, One Human Race!
And just just for our time, but for all time. For our children have human rights to be cherished, and their children, and their descendants as well. If it were not for the future and its promise, the first child might never have been conceived. You and I, proud carriers of the torch of human rights, would not even be here to celebrate today.
But we are here today. And tomorrow, when we return to our homes, our lives, our families and friends, our children will smile when we tell them about the music, about the art, about the wonderful people we met today.
But in their eyes, behind those smiles, will be three questions for our hearts:
“What have you done for me today?”
“What have you done to protect my future?”
“What have you done to help the rest of the children, everywhere, in Boston; in New York; in Johannesburg, South Africa; in Ethiopia; in Sofia, Bulgaria; in the Russian Republics; in Nanking, China; in Los Angeles, California; in Buenos Aires, Argentina; in Atlanta, Georgia; in Shreveport, Louisiana; in Selma, Alabama; in Washington, D.C.?”
And if today you have enjoyed the music, the dancing, the artistry, the sense of community; if today you have given just five minutes of serious thought to the reasons these things were possible, you will be able to give them an answer to their questions.
Your answer will be, “Everything that must be done.”