Cynthia McKinney speaks at Berlin 9-11 Conference

Cynthia McKinney
at Berlin "Unanswered Questions - Demanding Answers"
September 7, 2003

I want to thank the many Americans living in Berlin who joined with their German brothers and sisters of conscience to put this forum together. Out of the deepest respect for the families of the people who lost their lives on September 11th, and for the traditions for which our country has stood for so many years, we come together to ask for a complete and thorough, transparent investigation of what went wrong before, on, and after September 11th so that we can make sure that such a tragedy never happens again.

First, for the men and women who lost their lives on that day; their families ought to know what happened to them and why. How did our country fail, and what must we do as Americans, to make sure that we not fail in this manner again.

For the sake of justice, America must not seem to behave in a fashion of revenge against the closest or easiest target that also happens to be sufficiently weak or politically convenient. The search for justice is a part of our very Declaration of Independence that we and the world revere so much. It is that idea of justice that delivered us from the evils of slavery and took us through the civil rights movement. It is our notion of justice that demanded the right to vote for women. It is that notion of justice that is about to welcome gay people into equal treatment under the law. The American ideal is that our country's institutions see no black or white or Latino or Asian or Native American; that they see no gay or straight; that they see no rich or poor or in-between, but that we all are treated equally before the law.

Any glimpse into our society today will show you that we have not reached that ideal. And that in many ways, we still have a very long way to go. But we don't stop that noble struggle because it's inconvenient, and we don't stop that struggle because it's difficult; we continue that struggle despite the obstacles, and when we overcome them, the world celebrates with us.

I know the world celebrates with us because I heard all over Europe, East and West, sung the anthem of our own civil rights movement, we shall overcome. So I know you were watching and I know you were listening and when we take tiny steps forward, you applaud with us. And we applaud when you move forward toward those very same ideals.

We rise today out of the deepest American tradition and out of love for our country.

When Dred Scott, a famous American slave, went to the US Supreme Court to secure his freedom, he was told by a US Supreme Court Justice writing for the majority that there were no laws written by white men that should be respected for blacks. Our country went to war with itself over feelings like that. And a half century later, when Rosa Parks decided that she could no longer stand up when a white person needed a seat on her Alabama bus, our country was plunged once again into serious deliberation over what kind of country we were. When Dr. Martin Luther King gave his remarkable address to the nation forty years ago on the Mall in Washington, DC, America once again was confronting grave questions about who were as a people and what we stood for in the world. We've had to do that as a country, just as we do that as individuals. When confronted with serious questions that have moral implications for ourselves and for others, we must deliberate and always try to make the best decision.

It is right that we ask ourselves these questions so that we can be the best country it is possible for us to be.

And because we still have a long way to go before we reach our ideal, self-reflection is not only good, it is necessary. For just as Europe was singing we shall overcome for its celebration of freedom, sadly, little Iraqi children were recorded singing We Shall Overcome, but they sang as American bombs rained down on their country.

Four incidents of recent memory should note the imperative for self-reflection.

One, we recently commemorated the 40th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. But we have unfinished business on the manner of his murder, the treatment of his family, and the realization of his dream.

My generation cannot think of Martin King without also remembering both John and Bobby Kennedy. But in both their murders, we still have unfinished business.

Not just because of the unanswered questions that still surround the taking of their lives, but also because of what they meant to our country. The idea of Camelot was almost the idea of an America fulfilled. And when those men were taken away from us, so too was our proximity to a certain national fulfillment.

Because John F. Kennedy, seated on the throne of world domination, rejected Pax Americana and reminded us that the kind of peace that we really wanted was the peace for all people for all time, not a selfish kind of peace just for us, imposed with American weapons of war.

When Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for President and confronted by hecklers who didn't like his proposal for poverty programs to help the poor, he reminded those hecklers that they were the privileged Americans, already in medical school. And he noted to them that he didn't see too many blacks or native Americans in the audience with them and that it was America's responsibility to see to it that there were. That blacks and Native Americans and all America's poor and dispossessed had the opportunity to share in America's bounty.

But Bobby Kennedy was also with Black America on the night of the announcement of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And although speaking directly to black people that night, he was also speaking to all of America, not only for that night but for this night too. Because he asked rhetorically, what kind of America do we want. An America of violence and hate? Or another type of America. Where we all could live together as one. He acknowledged the rightful anger of the crowd, and reminded them that his brother had been killed by a white man, too. So we must not be an America divided by race. We must not be a violent America. Our America should make gentle the life of this world.

Now, imagine a nation plunged into mourning for the deaths of these three heroes and we emerge as a country that could construct a dictatorship in the small country of Chile as it is clear that we Americans helped to do.

When we veer from the path of making our country live up to its ideals, it is possible for our country to take the wrong path. And when we take the wrong path, innocent lives could be taken as a result.

Don't we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world, because we have become so big and so strong and so mighty, to be right, too?

I don't hear very many of our leaders in America who sound like John, or Martin, or Bobby today. But they should. Because we still have depressing poverty; we still have inequality before the law; we still have crushing racial problems, and now we are told by our leaders to expect a generation of war. Our country must not be only an economic or military superpower, but a moral one too.

By asking the critical questions of what happened on September 11th, we set the stage for a better America.

Now, at the time, there might have been those who saw Dred Scott as un-American for raising such questions as the rights of a slave or former slave in a US Court of Law. There might have been those, at the time, who looked at Rosa Parks as un-American for not giving up her seat to a white bus rider. There might have been some, at the time, who thought that John Kennedy's refusal to go to war with Cuba was un-American. They might have thought that Martin King's push for the right to vote for black people and social and economic justice for all people was un-American; they might have thought that Dr. King's idea of Vietnam for the Vietnamese was un-American, but today, isn't it interesting, that we look back on the triumphs of these people as right and the institutions that hindered them as wrong. We celebrate their willingness to see beyond the criticism of the day to the real issues that make us proud to be Americans.

But lest those quick to criticize forget, it was George Washington, our first President, in h

is 1796 Farewell Address to the American people who reminded us who the real patriots are. George Washington told us to beware the false patriots who would usurp the applause of the people, but who betray our American values. He warned us that false patriots would wrap themselves in the American flag, at the same time betraying our values. In 1796, we were warned to beware the false patriots, and today, we must beware false patriots.

George Washington told us, too who the real patriots are. He reminded us that the real patriots are the ones who take the unpopular stands, ask the difficult questions, pay the ultimate price, make the ultimate sacrifice, but who advance the cause of our country and of its people.

So let there be no doubt.

We here today are the true patriots who love our country so much that we will challenge her to do no wrong and make gentle the life of this world.

Thank you.

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