The following speech was recorded on Dec. 30, 2012, by Noelle Hanrahhan at prisonradio.org for the Jan. 12 gala dinner in New York City.
It is fitting that we gather today. As icy winds whip against the walls of Riverside Church, we celebrate the work and life of Ramsey Clark and the International Action Center — Ramsey’s 85th year and the IAC’s 20.
It is fitting that we gather here at Riverside, for even as I surprise myself, as I praise a former U.S. attorney general, I am also a student of history, and I know that he is far more than that.
For here, at Riverside [on April 3, 1967], was where the Rev. Martin Luther King had perhaps his finest hour and his greatest public crisis. For here, at Riverside, King made his biggest and boldest speech against “the evils of capitalism,” which he likened to the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.
At Riverside, King denounced America’s “puppet” (King’s words) in Vietnam, so-called “president,” Ngo Dinh Diem, as “one of the most vicious modern dictators,” and the U.S. “concentration camps” throughout Vietnam.
At Riverside, King said America is siding with “the wealthy and secure while we create a hell for the poor.”
At Riverside, King said, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”
Here, he said, “We must get on the right side of the world revolution.” He said that here at Riverside, “down by the river side.”
And, although he felt lifted by his speech, the liberal elites went on the attack. Whitney Young, a leader of the Urban League, condemned him. The New York Times called his remarks “reckless.” The NAACP put out a resolution saying civil rights and peace movements shouldn’t be linked. Black columnist Carl Rowan, working with the White House, wrote an article designed to “take out” King as a dupe of communists.
And the Washington Post, long the house organ of the CIA, wrote a blistering editorial saying, in part, that King’s speech was “unsupported fantasy,” further, that King “has done a grave injury to those who are his natural allies and an even greater injury to himself. Many who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people. And that is a great tragedy.” (April, 6, 1967) And those were the liberals!
Fast forward. 2013. Today, a gala celebration for Ramsey Clark’s 85th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the International Action Center.
Here, from this post, it is entirely possible that he has done more against injustice than when he was the head of the U.S. Department of Justice.
For here, at the IAC, we find the strongest voices against the evils of racism, the evils of militarism and the evils of capitalism (as King said, here at Riverside). When millions of people were in the streets in the spring of 2003, the IAC was holding rallies, putting out leaflets, manning and womanning websites, staging protests against the coming Iraq war. Who was on the right side of history? George W. Bush? Or Ramsey Clark and the IAC?
When the bombs were being readied for Afghanistan, and the White House was swearing vengeance, who dared to stage rallies, predicting disaster?
Abu Ghraib, Pakistan, Palestine, drone strikes and wild Islamophobia, fueled by fear and ignorance. Who opposed these developments at every step?
And as capitalism sent jobs abroad, hollowing out the middle class, causing dystopian hells in inner cities, who spoke out against the rapacious greed of Wall Street and the resultant prison industrial complex and the death industry of Death Row? Ramsey Clark and the organization he helped found in two small rooms of his law office, the IAC 20 years ago.
Ramsey Clark, as a former attorney-general, indeed, the son of an attorney-general and a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Tom C. Clark, could’ve gone to any law firm or gotten a sinecure at a think tank and made his “pile.” He could’ve made millions.
That he took some of the toughest cases in the nation and with the IAC, fought some of the toughest battles against the might of the Empire, is telling and high tribute.
A final thought: If King were alive today, he’d be a year younger than Ramsey — 84.
But, where would he be?
At a vast, multimillion dollar cathedral in Atlanta? Or at that place where he could speak his heart’s truth, where his spirit and his politics merged into one?
He would be with the People! with Ramsey Clark! with the International Action Center! He’d be with us all at Riverside! Thank you!! Onamove!! Long live John Africa!!
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.