“A great many people in this country are worried about law-and-order. And a great many people are worried about justice. But one thing is certain; you cannot have either until you have both.” – Ramsey Clark
A deep sense of loss rushed into my soul when Karen Melander-Magoon announced at our zoom check-in meeting last Sunday that former Attorney General Ramsey Clark had passed. Why did I feel a sense of loss? I felt it because of the way Ramsey Clark lived his life. He lived it with faithfulness, audacity, integrity, purpose, and responsibility. His life embodied Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s assertion that few may be guilty, but all are responsible. Out of a great sense of responsibility, he lived a life that argued for justice, human rights, and studying war no more.
He helped to implement the Brown vs Board of Education decision Southern states that refused to comply and played a major role in crafting the U.S. Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He went to Selma not as an onlooker, but to protect protestors as they marched from Selma to Montgomery. Providing personal security for James Meredith and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Clark raised the spirits of those oppressed. They knew he had their backs.
He opposed the death penalty and as far back as the 1960’s called for the abolition of prisons as presently constituted.
Amid wiretapping and blackmailing, Mike Wallace of CBS declared: “There is only one man not afraid to stand up to Hoover: Ramsey Clark.”
He opposed the Vietnam War and worked against what he understood as United States imperialism. He stated about the war, “We are bombing the hell out of that poor land. We are hitting hospitals.” In responding to a question of whether such bombing was deliberate, he responded “ I can’t tell you whether its’s deliberate. But to the people who are getting hit, it doesn’t make much difference.” As I stated in my Easter message, blood was shed by 58,220 US military personnel, 1,100,000 Vietnamese soldiers and 2,000,000 civilians on both sides during that savage war.
During the 1991 U.S. Gulf War, he travelled 2,000 miles through Iraq during intense bombing to discover the truth about the devastation of that tragic war. This resulted in the only uncensored film of the war, Jon Alpert’s, “Nowhere to Hide.”
It was during this period that I met Ramsey Clark. He was one of the founders of the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. The local expression was headed by Gloria La Riva (the first recipient of Fellowship Church’s Howard Thurman Award) and Richard Becker as well as Diane Wang and Ken Knudsen who later became members of the church. I had the opportunity to personally meet Clark and work with him. One of our most memorable gatherings was a packed audience at Third Baptist Church.
He opposed sanctions. Clark was concerned about international relations and the intersections of oppression. He believed, as Dr. King did, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, that our destinies are mutually intertwined and that the future is dependent upon how we learn to live in the “World House.”
A more comprehensive account of his life is articulated by Gloria La Riva at https://www.liberationnews.org/ramsey-clark/.
Ramsey Clark was an extraordinary humanitarian whose life is a testament of integrity, audacity, truth seeking, and commitment to a just world. Always, he was guided by his moral compass.
I have spent some time discussing Ramsey Clark because I feel his life argues for our own lives to be courageous, centered, determined, and based of certain principles that must not be abridged, compromised, or betrayed. He was a person of power and national influence as a member of national administrations.
These are difficult, troubling times. In many ways the nation is on edge. Mass murders abound. Killings by police are commonplace. Racial tension is feverish. Bills to eliminate the already disinherited are rampant across the nation. Draconian measures against the trans community continue to be put forth. Poverty, immigration issues and other forms of dislocation do not receive the attention desperately needed. Times like these require examples, models of people who have used their one precious life to make a difference in the world. Ramsey Clark did that. He resisted the temptation to go along to get along, to be popular, superficial, a pawn. He speaks to our lives today summoning us to do more than we have ever done and to be better than we have ever been.
In one of his meditations Dr. Howard Thurman raises the question: “To What Loyalty are you True?” That is a profound question for each of us. The contest for loyalty seems to be a never-ending, often beguiling one. Many of us know of individuals within whom we have placed great trust only to see them lured by greed, status, false security, popularity, power into something other than the principled person they initially were. Thurman writes:
A man runs for a political office. Standing outside of the responsibility of the office, it is
clear to him what is right, the ideal thing to do. When he is elected, he becomes a man with the responsibility of office and, all his days, he wrestles with the loyalty to his ideals and loyalty to the responsibilities of office. Power always involves a man in a network of compromises. This is true because a man has to be selfless in relation to his ideals or be destroyed by them. Power always includes more than the private relation between a man and his personal ideals. To give up the struggle is to lose one’s soul. And what would a man give in exchange for his soul? Fame? Prestige? Glory? Power?
This is what Jesus had to resolve when faced with accepting the tempter’s offer of the gift of the world if Jesus would bow his knee to the tempter or temptation rather than to live for the Realm or Kin-dom of God. It was a question of moral integrity and giving up the moral initiative of one’s own life, of betraying the moral center of one’s existence without which one cannot be fully alive. Thurman states: “Often the involvements are so complex that the erosion in a life, the slow dying of qualities that have scarcely taken root in it, do not manifest themselves until a moment of crisis or special demand.”
Thurman uses an excerpt from Oswald McCall’s, The Hand of God, to deepen the discussion.
But the other day a piece of rubber that had bound and tired a wheel lay discarded by the road, and, being older now, and aware of what the years can do, I pushed the degenerate stuff with my foot and saw in it the image of a life.
The rubber had the same form as when it was a vital, resilient, and serviceable thing. Nevertheless, it was sapless as sand. It guarded the sad secret well in its dry and juiceless heart, betraying never at all that the soul had gone out of its very proper shape – until I asked it to behave as one has a right to expect rubber to behave. Then I learned.
For I took it and found it would not stretch. It crumbled, broke. It had perished!
I have read this probing message so many times. Appearance can be very deceiving. A person may appear to be one way but is actually another. A challenge to each of us is to retain the elasticity, the juiciness of life. This is done by being faithful to the visions, the ideals that square with the wholeness and whole making of the universe. How do we show-up? How do we weave the ripped fabric between nations and peoples into tapestries of interdependence, mutual respect, and cooperation? How do we foster community rather than chaos? How do we move beyond competition based upon scarcity into cooperatives of abundance? How do we honor the ecology that provides for our physical and spiritual needs rather than destroy it?
These were some of the ideas that motivated the life and work of Ramsey Clark. He felt the need to expose the brokenness and to live into new ways of sharing the bounty of life.
The purpose of getting to know something about Ramsey Clark’s life is not for Ramsey Clark. It is a challenge to unmask ourselves, to get to know ourselves better. What are the things to which we are committed? With whom or what do our loyalties lie? It is a reminder for us to revisit the moments of our high resolve. What are the roadblocks resulting in detours that cause us to lose direction? I do believe that deep within we all have dreams that sometimes get buried. They are still there! Does this have something to do with resurrection – the resurrection of ourselves, our ideals, our loyalties, our purpose for living during this particular time? We all have those moments when we are stirred to envision the far horizon and high destiny. Let us celebrate them again and again.
We have been born into a Great Mystery, one not to be solved but lived. Living the mystery well requires a search for authenticity and common ground. Samuel H. Miller wrote: “Probably nothing becomes so evident to one born of the spirit as the fresh and unfrightening sense of mystery. The dark waters of life and death flow through our hands, the tides change, and these little cockleshells on which we ride across the deep have no great guarantee against wind or wave. A slight motion, or lack of motion, and this precarious moment dips down to eternity, yet there is no fear, but only a strange new peace.”
“In the face of all the uncertainties that surround any decision, the wise man acts in the light of his best judgment illumined by the integrity of his profoundest spiritual insights. The rest is in the hands of the future and in the mind of God. The possibility of error, of profound and terrible error, is at once the height and depths of man’s freedom. For this, God be praised!”
– Howard Thurman