Address at a University of Notre Dame Student Assembly

South Bend, IN | February 7, 1968

It's time to stop moaning and wringing our hands. It's true, the country is in a crisis. But we have always been in a crisis. We ought to thank God we are. Because then we always have something to test us -- like a piece of steel that stays strong precisely because it is enduring great pressure.

I think we need to do three things.

First, we need to make a national examination of conscience.

Second, we need to make a national pledge promising to take the $25 billion we're now spending in Vietnam and use it here at home when the war is over.

Third, we need a national program to create new careers not just for the poor, but for the middle class.

Why do we need a national examination of conscience? Because suddenly we Americans seem to be panicking. It's time to stop moaning and wringing our hands. It's true, the country is in a crisis. But we have always been in a crisis. We ought to thank God we are. Because then we always have something to test us -- like a piece of steel that stays strong precisely because it is enduring great pressure.

It's true, however, that the present crisis is unique, because everybody is blaming everybody else for it. Look at the "fall-guys:" -- the President, the Congress, the Pope, the bishops, the hippies, the generals, Madison Avenue, Texans, the coach, the poor, the middle-class, the rich.

Take the War on Poverty. People blame the poor for being "lazy and shiftless." We blame the people running the programs. We blame businessmen for not creating enough jobs. We blame the Negroes for rioting.

But we really haven't examined our consciences to find out who is really at fault.

As the Jesuit poet, Fr. Daniel Berrigan wrote:

"We stand there—American, white, Christian, with the keys of the world in our pocket. Everything about us says, be like me. I've got it made. But the poor sees the emperor --naked. Like the look of Christ, the poor man strips us down to the bone...

"The poor have it hard, the saying goes. Well, the hardest thing they have is us."

Fr. Berrigan is right. We are the hardest thing the poor have. We are the cause of poverty. Because right now, poverty in the United States is a completely solvable problem. It would cost less than $11 billion to solve the problem. We could simply give that amount of money. We have the money to provide a handout to every poor person and family in America.

I'm not saying we should end poverty this way. In fact, I've always been against such a handout program. I'm using this $11 billion figure just to show that American poverty is not so huge a problem. $11 billion is less than 1-1/2% of our GNP. It's the cost of about five months in Vietnam. But most of us don't want to give up the money. We want things to stay as they are; or better yet, we would like to receive a tax cut. We have tuition to pay. Our parents have mortgages to pay. And debts. Most of us think we're broke. Well, we're not. We're rich. Compared to the rest of the people of the world, anyone earning over $7, 000 a year as 54% of all Americans do -- has an income in the top . 04% of all the people in the world!

You and I are like Dives, the rich man in the Bible. Lazarus, the poor man, is out dying before our gate. The world is dying in front of America's gate. What are we going to do? Keep on feeding our poodles, buying our second television set, going out to Howard Hughes new zillion dollar hotel in Las Vegas where, according to the press release, there will be so many games to play and diversions that no one could be bored-provided he's a sub-moron.

Those are some of the banal ways you and I try to find meaning in our —lives. But the only way we'll ever find genuine meaning in our lives is to go' out and confront Lazarus at the gate: person to person.

Money alone can't destroy poverty. That's why I have always opposed a handout program. We have something deeper than a dollar problem. We have a human problem.

The kind of human problem we have is illustrated by an incident which occurred in 1965 in the Dominican Republic. Forty-six Peace Corps Volunteers were down there when the fighting broke out. Some were girls. Nurses. When the wounded were brought in--some of them shot by our own Marines--these girls stayed on duty around the clock.

So did all the volunteers. In fact, these Peace Corps Volunteers were the only group allowed behind the lines of both sides. The words "Cuerpo de Paz" eliminated all barriers--military, political, and human.

The volunteers stayed on during all the fighting and then left for Puerto Rico when it was over. Their two years was up. They were scheduled for de-briefing, and then home. While the de-briefing was still going on, an unusual election was held in the barrios, the slums of Santo Domingo. The slum dwellers with whom the Peace Corps Volunteers had worked—they're called counterparts--took a vote to see if they wanted the Peace Corps back. Despite their hatred of Yankees, these slum dwellers voted 46 to 0 in favor of the Peace Corps. Who today in America -- besides VISTA volunteers, religious groups, dedicated people like that-- could win such a vote of confidence from our own poor?

What explains this vote? One Peace Corps Volunteer offered this explanation. "The people liked us because we lived with them and knew them. A Dominican friend of mine put it this way, When we were hungry, you were hungry. When we walked in the mud, you walked in the mud."

But events like that don't happen just in the Peace Corps. Last week, the Green Bay Packers threw a farewell party for Vince Lombardi. Bob Skoronski, the Packer offensive captain, told about playing football under Lombardi.

“...It's been crying and laughing and the whole bit, and I think that's the sign of a great coach. He's been so emotional that he's been on his knees with us. He's laughed with us. He's suffered the things we've suffered and enjoyed the things we've enjoyed. . . " That's why Lombardi is a great coach. Not because he's a master of the split T, the wing T, the spread T, the power I, the crooked I, the shifting I. It's because he's suffered with his men and he's rejoiced with them.

That's why a genuine examination of our national conscience would reveal something to each of us: that we must get down on our knees with the poor before we get down on our knees before God.

My second proposal concerns the money we're now spending in Vietnam. Some people say we can't have guns and butter. We just have enough money for guns. Most of the people who make that argument don't really believe it. They know it's phony. If the war ended tomorrow, or next month, or next year -- would they take that "gun-money" and use it here at home for "butter-money? "

"No, " they would not, -- according to this month's Fortune Magazine:

"It seems clear that, if peace were to come in Vietnam this year, Congress would be likely at first to use a cutback in arms spending as an excuse to reduce the budget deficit."

In other words cut the deficit or cut taxes.

The answer is also "no" in the opinion of numerous experienced people to whom I've put the question. If that $25 billion suddenly became available, they say we'd use it not only for tax cuts but also for highways and post offices, for dams, harbors and rivers, to build bigger aircraft carriers or a new anti-missle missle system.

Last in the order of priorities would be the poor. That's why we now need a national pledge -- to get the signatures/of all those people who say that the cost of the War in Vietnam is the reason for not fighting a war on poverty. Let's get them on record now. Otherwise, when the guns stop shooting, we might forget the needs of the poor, and return to business as usual.

You may think a pledge like the one I suggest is unrealistic. Well, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee doesn't think so. Last December 5th, Chairman Carl Perkins wrote a letter to Senator Joseph Clark of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee. He wrote: "In the event that there is a resolution of the Vietnam conflict or world conditions otherwise permit, I shall see that action is initiated in the House Education and Labor Committee to increase the authorization for such year commensurate with the needs of this program."

After he wrote that letter, Carl Perkins told me--and many others that if the cost of the Vietnam war substantially decreased, he would act immediately to increase the budget of the War on Poverty by $1 billion. In fact he said, he personally would be in favor of two or three billion more.

So, Carl Perkins has taken the pledge. What about you? What about all Americans? What about every college student in America?

Instead of burn, burn, burn, why not: pledge, pledge, pledge. We could take a pledge like this:

I pledge that when peace comes in Vietnam,
I will use my influence as a citizen and as
a voter to make sure that the savings in
military expenses will be invested in our
human resources here at home—especially
for the benefit of the poor.

For all Americans who feel politically powerless, here is something you can support: We must put the poor above politics. We must put community above chaos. We must put self-giving above self-service.

Third, I propose that we create thousands of new careers, new interests, even new jobs for the middle class. Every year, 500,000 Americans graduate from college. For most, this college education costs Americans about $8,000. If a person went to a private prep school, that would be about $5,000 more. When these 500,000 people graduate from college, therefore, we have invested about $5 billion just in their college education. Then what do we tell them? Too often, we say "you're too young to be given serious responsibilities. Get some experience."

Year after year, America's half million college graduates are told they must wait -- wait in line, wait for seniority. A few of them get angry and a few of them get neurotic. But as for the majority, they were described by Nan Robertson, a New York Times reporter:

"The vast middle (of America's college students) gets on with the business of going to school: growing, learning, reaching some kind of truce with the status quo. These students look milk fed, scrubbed and not much involved with anything else besides books and dating."

That reporter was right. But in most cases, it's not the fault of the students. It's the fault of adult America. We haven't challenged our young people. We spend thousands of dollars to educate them in million-dollar universities, and then let them vegetate.

That's why we have to create new careers for these millions of Americans about to graduate from college. And for those millions who have recently graduated. Instead of damning the white, dutiful and patriotic middle class Americans for creating America's problems, let's start using the middle class to solve those problems.


Not only by getting the middle class to do something different -- like the Peace Corps, VISTA or the religious life --, but by getting them to do something better. For example, the way they're doing something better in Jacksonville, Florida.

Last week, the executive vice-president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce walked into my office.

"Mr. Shriver," he said, "when the War on Poverty began, the Chamber of Commerce was against you. We said the poor were lazy and shiftless, that they were hopeless and helpless. "But then we realized something. Fifteen per cent of our country is poor. That 15% is a huge market. And businessmen are missing out on it. If the poor stay poor, we don't make any profit out of them at all. But if the poor are trained and educated, then they get salaries and they'll become consumers.

"We figured it out in Jacksonville. We figured that if we could take the poor people in Jacksonville and increase their income -- through training and jobs -- by just $10 a week, it would increase the amount of money spent in Jacksonville by $30-million a year! That's too much money to pass up."

He's right. His motive was selfish in one sense, but it motivated him to action. In Jacksonville, the Chamber of Commerce helped set up an OIC job training program. In less than a year, 600 new jobs and workers were created by Jacksonville businessmen.

Maybe all that sounds cold and cheap: training and educating the poor just to get their money. But it's only cold and cheap when you have only cold and cheap people in the Chamber of Commerce. It doesn't have to be that way. Even though profits are their first motive, businessmen are still human beings created by God and just as capable of compassion as anyone else.

vIt's hypocritical to turn our noses down at the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotarians, the Kiwanis clubs. Christ didn't. He raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue in Galilee. Jairus was a member of the Establishment. So was the Centurion, whose words we repeat every Sunday at Mass. So was Zaccaeus, one of the richest men in Jerico.

Most of the twelve apostles would have belonged to the Galilee Chamber of Commerce! Andrew, Peter, James and John were fishermen. They made profits. They probably kept the white meat for themselves. St. Luke was a doctor. Today, he'd be a member of the American Medical Association. St. Matthew was a tax collector, today he would be known as an Internal Revenue Service agent. St. Paul was a tent maker. Today he'd be in the American Architectural Association, or a member of a trade union. As for St. John the Baptist, Biblical scholars never have found out his job. He probably got his job because he was a relative of the boss!

So there's nothing wrong with being middle class or being a capitalist. Right now, Notre Dame has 1200 undergraduates in its school of Business Administration, plus 100 graduate students. In 10 years, most of you will be running your own businesses or maybe your father's business. You'll be bankers, salesmen, brokers, merchants, factory owners, investors.

Christianity was started by middle class apostles -- today it has to be kept going by them as well as by the poor. Right now in America, the greatest opportunity to bring about social change belongs to the middle class capitalists. Why? Because they are more numerous than any other group in our society. And they have the money.

We need the 1300 Commerce majors at Notre Dame to go out and reach the poor. Not by joining VISTA or tutoring at Head Start or Job Corps. Just become good bankers, salesmen, merchants. And then be available to the poor. No one is asking you to become sacrificing businessmen -- just be available businessmen.

Available to a poor man who needs a loan to start a business in the slum.

Available to give a few hours a week at a job training program.

Available to Negro architects who want to rebuild a ghetto.

Available to teach budgeting or economics or investing to an adult education class.

Available to have weekly lunches with poor people. At your home. And theirs.

Available to participate with the poor and accept them as fully equal human beings.

We need new careers for lawyers. Notre Dame has 400 pre-law students. It has 300 in the law school. Dr. Conrad Kellenberg and the Notre Dame Law School are responsible for the Legal Services Program in South Bend. At one office, 313 East Broadway, two Notre Dame law students are presently volunteering eight hours a week.. Together with a regular lawyer, they handle about 90 cases a month. At the other Legal Services office, three Notre Dame law students are volunteering. They average about 100 cases a month: divorce, adoption, custody suits, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer-creditor problems, welfare payments. Thirty-six out of fifty-six law school seniors are taking a seminar in legal problems of the urban poor. But this is not enough.

The poor desperately need lawyers. Justice is one of the first things a poor man wants. 0E0 has over 800 Legal Services Offices -in America's ghettos, in Appalachia, on Indian reservations. These offices are staffed by 2,000 lawyers. But that, too, is not enough. Why can't the law students of Notre Dame -- and every American college and university -- volunteer a summer to work for the poor? All over America.

We need new careers for athletes. Right now, Notre Dame has one of the best intra-mural athletic programs in the country. More than 3,000 students are in it. Besides this, you have about 300 varsity athletes.

But what happens when all of you athletes graduate? Some turn pro, some turn off, and some turn fat. But America needs athletes -in careers where they can use their talents.

Not long ago, I was talking to Bill Bradley, the former Princeton All-American basketball player and Rhodes Scholar. Now he is playing with the New York Knicks. After he returned from post graduate work in England, he went to see his old faculty adviser at Princeton. They talked about what Bradley should do during the off-season. Bradley could have almost any job in America, but his coach told him, "Go to work for the poverty program. That's where you're needed the most."

After this season, Bill Bradley will be working for OEO.

Another athlete working for the poor is Sandy Koufax. He's been going around to our Job Corps camps giving clinics. I remember a press conference he gave about a year ago. A newsman asked him, "Why are you giving clinics to these kids? You're the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball. None of these kids -- dropouts, Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Indians -- none of them has a chance of becoming like you."

"No," said Koufax. "I was the champion last year. No one knows about next year. Tomorrow's champion might be one of those kids. If he gets the inspiration."

When you walk into the average American ghetto or slum, the first thing you often see is a playground. But usually, it's locked. It has a big fence around it. Sometimes with barbed wire. It has a basketball court, but nobody's playing. It has room for a tennis court, but who plays tennis in a ghetto?

Right outside that playground, the next sight you see is a group of teenagers. Instead of being organized into teams for athletics, they're organized into gangs to make molotov cocktails. Why? Often because that playground is locked. Somebody has a key to it, but he's the wrong person. The person who should have that key is an athlete. An athlete whose job it is to run that playground. An athlete who's willing to live in that slum near that playground.

America's poor need sports -- not just to keep them from rioting, but to teach them sportsmanship, to teach them about life. We desperately need athletes, or ex-athletes to set up recreation programs for the poor.

Two weeks ago, Murray Povich of Washington's WTTG did a half-hour show on Dave Bing, of the Detroit Pistons. Bing is presently the leading scorer in the National Basketball Association.

They showed Bing playing at the playground in Anacostia --- a Washington slum where he grew up. The reporter asked Bing who his boyhood idol was. "Bernard Levi," he said. "Who's Bernard Levi?" the reporter asked. When I was a freshman at Spingarn High School, Levi was the star of the team. He could make every shot. Every play. He was everybody's idol."

"But who's he playing for today," asked the reporter. "He's not playing for anybody," Bing said. "He's in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. On a 20-year rap for bank robbery."

Maybe Levi would be playing in the NBA today, if there had been somebody who cared about him. And maybe there would be more than just one Negro playing big time tennis -- Arthur Ashe -- if we had more tennis courts in the streets. Maybe there would be more than one Negro golf pro -- Charlie Sifford -- on the PGA tour if somebody was around to take Negroes out to the club and give them lessons.

Finally, let me say, I don't want to come to Notre Dame without talking at all about priests. So I've got an idea on new careers for priests.

Last week, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story about a unique baptism. A Catholic layman had his father-in-law baptize his son. The baptism was done without a priest. It was a valid baptism, because under' church law laymen are allowed to baptize when there's a state of emergency. And today, the Church is in a state of emergency.

I talked to that progressive layman. "I've had a lot of letters from priests who read that story in the National Catholic Reporter. They thanked me."

"Thank you? What for?"

"For starting something that will free the priests to do more important work. Priests should have better things to do than filling out baptismal forms, and spending all Sunday afternoons baptizing babies. Qualified laymen should take over the job of baptizing. The baby's grandfather could do it. Or the godfather. Or a friend. Then the priests would be free to give time to the poor who need them the most. That's where they're needed, not in the baptistery."

He's right. Today, there are only 36,000 diocesan priests, in 131 dioceses. Among 46-million American Catholics. Why not let laymen begin playing a serious part in the churches renewal? If the term "priesthood of the laity" is to mean anything, it ought to mean taking over some of the work that others can do so that priests can do the most important work of all.

A national examination of conscience; a national pledge to get money for the poor; and new careers for the middle class: those are some of the ways I believe America can create a new community.

Instead of talking about what's wrong in a world we didn't make, let us begin to do what's right in a world we can make.

Goethe said, "Beware of what you long for in your youth, for you will get it in your middle age." And probably die from it in old age!

That's why thousands of young Americans are seeking a new community. That's what you will want in your middle age. And in your old age. You long for a new community now. Let's work together to create it. Nowadays we say with Albert Camus: "I would like to love my country and justice at the same time." Let's be able to do both.

Thank you.