Last week, I had the good fortune of attending the 50th anniversary reunion of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The group, widely viewed as the young people’s arm of the civil rights movement, was formed when college students from across the South gathered at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., on April 15, 1960.

A couple of thousand people attended the reunion conference, which was also held in Raleigh. Some of the icons, black and white, of the original organization came, as did lots of young people trying to understand their history and anxious to figure out how to make some history of their own.

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There was a whole of love and camaraderie in the air. Yet the gathering wasn’t just about singing old songs, telling old stories and seeing old friends.

Singing legend and civil rights veteran Harry Belafonte kicked aside nostalgia, telling the crowd, “We all know what was, and how well we did it. The question is, ‘Who is talking about what is, and how badly we are doing it now?’ Where is our voice? Why are we so soft?”

He expressed disappointment in President Obama’s agenda, which he said included propping up banks in a time of economic crisis.

“Yes, I’m proud that Barack Obama is president,” he said, but “I find nothing that speaks to the issue of the poor. I find nothing that speaks to the issue of the disenfranchised. I find a lot of people rushing for cover any time you criticize Barack Obama.”

Attorney General Eric Holder attended the commemoration and acknowledged, “There is still work to be done.” And he vowed: “This Justice Department will be about that work.”

John Lewis, former SNCC chairman and now a Georgia congressman, brought a crowd of several hundred to their feet as he called out to former SNCC colleagues in the audience. And he moved the audience to tears as he paused to thank James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers killed in the summer of 1964 as they headed to investigate the burning of a black church in Mississippi.

Lewis called Obama’s election not the realization of what he and others had fought for, but only “a down payment.” He urged his SNCC colleagues to speak out against continuing injustices. “You’ve gone through the worst,” he told the group. “You’ve been thrown in jail, you’ve been beaten. What can anyone do to you now? Make some noise.”

Singer and civil rights activist Bernice Johnson Reagon also appealed to the many young people who came to the conference. “There are still wars that need to be challenged,” she told them, adding that “war has never fixed anything.” And she reminded us all that movements are never just one person’s story or one person’s solo. ”Freedom songs were sung by many voices together,” she said.

We need a new progressive movement, and a new young people’s arm of it, just like SNCC, to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to focus on “the least of these,” whether in Haiti or the ghettos of America, where poverty continues to lead young people to crime, violence, political disenfranchisement and death.

We still need to sing with many voices together — and loudly.

Kevin Alexander Gray is the author of the recently published books “Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics” and “The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama.” He can be reached at

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The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

Maybe I should only be shocked that I wasn’t shocked a long time ago.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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