Speeches of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, in the Company of Consonant Words from Patrick Henry, Karuna Ezara Parikh’, Martin Luther King, Jr., Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shakespeare
29 September 2017, as revised 4 October 2017
San Juan Mayor Cruz’s speeches to cable-news reporters and the world were heroic and heart-rending, and examples of great leadership in a time of crisis. If and when documentaries come to be made of the Trump years, sadly, these clips are as like as any to be included. (Has the Left finally found its voice? Someone who knows how—in the midst of the current uncategorizable hurricane and of the many, yet insufficient responses to it—to speak for caring, for human life?)
With people dying and desperate in Puerto Rico, there may be precious little time for literature or history. Yet hearing Cruz’s words, and seeing her on television, brings to mind great speeches from Shakespeare and from history, as well as poems like Karuna Ezara Parikh’s “It is not Paris we should pray for,” written in the wake of the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 people. Far below is much of the text of Parikh’s poem along with a few relevant lines from Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Shelley. Before getting to Cruz’s words, a few extracts from Patrick Henry’s most relevant and not dissimilar, 1775 Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech:
Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, . . . Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not . . . ? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. . . .
Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. . . . Why stand we here idle?
From two clips, links far below. Note that for the following presentation there has been a little editing, cutting; not all that much. Image above is of Cruz speaking on CNN.
“This is, damn it, this is not a good news story.
This is a ‘people are dying’ story.
This is a ‘life or death’ story.
This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story.
This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.
“We are dying here.
Mayday, we are in trouble.
The government had the gall this morning of asking me:
‘What are your priorities, mayor?’
“I have been patient but we have no time for patience any more.
I am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.
“I will do what I never thought I was going to do: I am begging.
I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying.
If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying.
And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy.
“I am done being polite.
I am done being politically correct.
I am mad as hell because my people’s lives are at stake.
“So I’m asking members of the press to send a mayday call all over the world.
We are dying here.
And if we don’t stop and if we don’t get the food and the water into people’s hands, what we are going to see is something close to a genocide.
“So, Mr. Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives.
If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of.
Enough is enough.”
Transcript prepared by The Guardian:
A Few Other Consonant Speeches & Poems
- From Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2:
No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
- From Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965, Our God is Marching On! (an extract in which King himself quotes from a poem, The Battle-Field, by William Cullen Bryant and from Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution: “Where this will end? In the Abyss, one may prophecy; whither all Delusions are, at all moments, travelling; where this Delusion has now arrived. For if there be a Faith, from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live for ever.”) From King’s speech:
I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” . . . Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?”
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”
- From Karuna Ezara Parikh, It is not Paris we should pray for
It is not Paris we should pray for.
It is the world. It is a world in which Beirut,
reeling from bombings two days before Paris,
is not covered in the press.
A world in which a bomb goes off
at a funeral in Baghdad
and not one person’s status update days “Baghdad,”
because not one white person died in that fire.
Pray for the world
that blames a refugee crisis for a terrorist attack. . . .
Say a prayer for Paris by all means,
but pray more,
for the world that does not have a prayer
for those who no longer have a home to defend.
For a world that is falling apart in all corners,
and not simply in the towers and cafes we find so familiar.
- From Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Song: “Men of England”
Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?
Wherefore feed and clothe and save
From the cradle to the grave
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood? . . .
Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?
The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.
Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:
Find wealth—let no imposter heap:
Weave robes—let not the idle wear:
Forge arms—in your defence to bear. . . .
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