Earlier this month I attended the War Resisters League’s inspiring 90th anniversary conference, “Revolutionary Nonviolence,” and one of the interesting workshops I joined offered this ambitious and daunting title: “Project Unspeakable: What do the ‘Unspeakable’ assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy during the 1960s have to do with the ‘Unspeakables’ of today?” The workshop was facilitated by war tax resister and Fellowship of Reconciliation member Randy Kehler, and involved participants doing a dramatic reading of excerpts from a theatrical work that Randy has been helping develop.
The script is drawn primarily from the words of key individuals in the 1960s in connection to the murders of John F. Kennedy, MLK, Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy, inspired by the exhaustive book project that James Douglass has been assembling. Douglass, a long-time anti-war Catholic voice, FOR member, and author/researcher who is based in Birmingham, has published two outstanding books in the past five years with this theme: JFK and the Unspeakable (which I felt was the best book I read in 2008) and Gandhi and the Unspeakable (last year).
The titles are inspired by the role of Thomas Merton’s “Unspeakable” in those assassinations, in the context of what he wrote in 1965: “One of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that [the world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable … [that] too few are willing to see.”
Douglass details how each of these four extraordinary historical figures was turning toward peace at the time of their assassination, and the culpability of our government and security state in their deaths. And despite that painful context, he gives us a hope for changing the frame as we move forward to a more just and peace-centered future.
This script is being written by noted actor/playwright Court Dorsey with assistance from several respected artists and activists, including playwright Steve Wangh, who was an associate writer of The Laramie Project. Like that extraordinary performance, which described the vicious hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard, and other dramatic readings of social justice issues — such as My Name Is Rachel Corrie and What I Heard About Iraq — this project strives to not only coordinate a large number of theatrical performances, but furthermore to offer opportunities to hold discussion groups or facilitated workshops in connection to the plays, related both to the implications of those assassinations a half-century ago and for overcoming the “unspeakables” of today. From the project description:
So we are led to ask: “What were these influential leaders doing and saying that made them such a threat to their assassins? What might our country, our world, look like today had they been able to live out their lives pursuing their ideas and visions? And how can we carry forward their unfinished legacy, thus helping to create the kind of world they wishes to create?” …
In short, our purpose is not simply to look back, but also to look forward, to take responsibility for our past silence regarding these assassinations and to commit ourselves to seeking the truth, not only about what happened 50 years ago but, equally, about what’s happening right now, whether it relates to corporate domination of our elections and policy-making, the extreme and ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the recent economic collapse and its causes, our ongoing war in Afghanistan (and other U.S.“military actions,” whether publicized or covert), the escalating climate emergency threatening our planet, or the lack of government and corporate transparency and accountability with respect to all these issues.
The sponsors of the project hope that Project Unspeakable readings will take place around the world in late 2013 and 2014. The forthcoming 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, on November 22nd, is one such opportunity. The holiday observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in mid-January is another. And of course, April 4th will be yet another worthwhile date to consider, as it is the anniversary of Rev. Dr. King’s assassination. To learn more or to participate, contact the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for more highlights from the WRL conference on my blog in the coming weeks.