Civil Rights leader, advocate of nonviolence, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) speechwriter, Vincent Harding spoke at Regis University on Tuesday Jan. 15, 2013. Byron Plumley who is head of the Justice Education Program and the Peace and Justice studies at Regis introduced Harding, pointing out his many accomplishments including a PhD. from the University of Chicago, creating the Veterans of Hope Project, and teaching at the Iliff School Theology.
In Oct. 2012, Harding and 23 others visited the West Bank in Palestine to view Palestinian conditions and to meet with the nonviolent movement within Palestine. Harding explained that “deep citizenship responsibilities” is what education should be about. He explained that one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s great friends was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who stated, “MLK is a vision and a hope, and the whole future of America depends on the impact and influence of Dr. King.”
Harding explained that MLK stressed 3 aspects that the United States would have to overcome to become the country it could be, Harding stated:
1) Racism - It will destroy us, if we do not destroy it.
2) Materialism - The way of measuring ourselves by things we have as individuals and as a society.
3) Militarism - The idea that human problems can be solved with guns and drones.
Harding explained that the idea for the journey to Palestine came out of the work of his close friend Dorothy Cotton. “A delegation of women and men who had been involved in the nonviolent movement in the US,” Harding continued, “discovered there was a small but powerful nonviolent movement for nonviolent resistance seeking change to the Israeli occupation of their land.”
“Palestinians are something more than the image we get of them as those who throw bombs and no nothing about nonviolence” - Vincent Harding
The delegation spent two weeks visiting with nonviolent activists, which included Palestinians and their Israeli allies. Harding elaborated, “quiet as it’s kept, wherever there are people working for life giving change, there will be allies. We met Palestinians who considered themselves to be occupied people, and beaten up on people, and who have decided that they will find a way to oppose that without becoming that, before they made that decision they have been finding Israeli allies to stand with them, to walk with them, to oppose the Israeli Defense Force with them and to teach their children that there is a better way to live than through war.”
Harding described his experience of Palestine noting historical parallels, “We were shaken, 24 of us went, half of us were African Americans, the other half were American Jews,” Harding continued, “in all of the walls, in all of the spaces where Palestinians could not go and all the papers and documents they needed to have to move from one part of their country to another, we were seeing that in a very deeply troubling way, the Israeli government was treating the Palestinians, not only the way that they had been treated in some other places just decades before, but some of us recognized that this was some of the treatment that some of us African Americans recognized.”
“For instance, I remember one day we came to something that was so familiar, the Jericho Road, and we were walking the Jericho Road after we got out of the van that was taking us along, and we looked up and saw a 20 foot wall that had been erected to keep the Palestinians in their place, one of the reasons why I wanted to report what I had seen to the community was because of the fact that in spite of all the deeply troubling things I saw, the most important part was that I met young people like these, the same age who had determined that they were not going to be pushed into the ground and at the same moment they were not going to use the methods of violence that had been used against them.”
When speaking to the Palestinian youth and posing the question, “What can the US do to help you?” a member of the nonviolent movement replied, “You go back to the USA and tell people we exist, Palestinians who believe deeply in nonviolence. You are now commissioned to go back to your country and speak to your leaders and to your citizens and tell them this: the Israeli government could not hold us down like this, could not shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at us, could not bulldoze our houses, could not do anything like that without America’s support, without weapons ... tell your people that they are complicit in this oppression of a people who love this land, who have lived on this land for thousands of years, who refuse to be thrown out of this land”
Harding quoted German Chancellor Angela Merkel who visited Israel and later wrote, “Maturity comes from acknowledging responsibility for the past.” Harding went on to state, “Acknowledge you came here out of deep trouble and put other people in deep trouble, acknowledge what it meant for people who were taking land from another people who were called Native Americans and saying we believe in democracy and freedom for all people, can we acknowledge that was our history? What should we do about it?”
Harding posed the question, “How do we face this paradox?” He continued, “Building freedom on the destruction of our fellow human beings, including the human beings that were brought from Africa … I want to insist on as an elder, that we not run away from the complexity of this, we must deal with this to be mature individuals …”
Vincent Harding ended the night by taking questions and discussing violence and peace solutions on both sides of the Israel and Palestine conflict.