Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Those of Us Who Know That America’s Worth Fighting for Have to Take It Back Now from Those Who Don’t

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. spoke last Saturday at the Sierra Summit in San Francisco. I could write an introduction to his speech, but the review below from John Byrne Barry, on the says it all…

Taking Money from Criminals
by John Byrne Barry
Plenary Session: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance

When running for president, George W. Bush accepted money from criminals and then, as payback, dropped the federal lawsuits against these criminals and changed the law that they were breaking.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., did not mince words in his blistering and passionate attack on the Bush administration Saturday afternoon to standing ovations from 2,500 rapt Sierra Summit participants.

“One hundred and ten U.S. coal-burning power plants had been polluting illegally for the 17 years,” he said, “and one of the first things Bush did was drop the Clinton administration cases against the 75 worst plants.”

But most Americans don’t know about this, said Kennedy, because of an “informational deficit” resulting from a “negligent and indolent press.”

I saw Kennedy a couple of days before Election Day last fall in Milwaukee when I was helping the Sierra Club get out the vote in three communities on the outskirts of the city. This was roughly the same speech. He had a raspy voice then due to laryngitis, just like he did today. He called the Bush administration the worst administration in U.S. history and detailed the abuses that result when corporations control the government and the media.

He brought tears to my eyes. Today even more than in Milwaukee.

He’s got his facts down, and he knows his history. But it’s his passion that resonates. When he blasts the coal industry for destroying the Appalachians with mountaintop mining, you can hear his heart ache for the people whose homes and livelihoods are being destroyed. He’s angry because he cares.

“You can’t talk about the environment honestly without criticizing this president,” he said, specifically lambasting the administration’s putting polluters in charge of the federal agencies entrusted to protect Americans from pollution.

He blasted Bush and his corporate paymasters for “treating the planet as if it were a business in liquidation. You can generate a cash flow, but our children are going to pay for our joy ride.”

Before his speech, Kennedy received the William O. Douglas Award from the Sierra Club’s Phil Berry on behalf of his Waterkeeper Alliance. He started his talk by reminiscing about the hikes and backpacking trips he took as boy with Douglas in the Washington, D.C., area and the Olympics in Washington State.

He closed –- and this he didn’t do in Milwaukee –- by praising wilderness and talking about how all the great religious leaders in history –- Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed -– went into the wilderness for their central epiphany awakenings. And how wilderness is deeply embedded in the American character.

Two hours later, I’m still shaking from the speech.

When enough people hear him speak, we’ll have a different country.

Here are the last few quips of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s speech (the entire speech is must read):

And you know all of these things they claim to love. They claim to love Christianity but they have violated every one of the manifold mandates of the Christian faith. [applause] That we care for the environment. We treat the earth respectfully and we treat our future generations with respect and all of these things, the values go along with the land. We all know that. I’ll close with a proverb from the Lakota people that all of you have heard, that’s been expropriated by the environmental movement to a large extent, where they said we didn’t inherit this planet from our ancestors; we borrowed it from our children.

I would add to that, if we don’t return to our children something that is roughly the equivalent of what they receive, not just in the quality of the environment but in the integrity of the values that have been handed down through generations of Americans. You know, visionary Republican and Democratic leadership only to hit these destructive people who are now running our country. The worst administration that we’ve had in American history and the greatest threat now to our country and our democracy. And all the values that cherish about America. And you know the way we’re viewed and the rest of the world we need to return those things.

I look at this White House and I ask myself –and this may be unfair — but I ask myself a lot of times, how did they get so many draft dodgers in one place? You know, the president, Dick Cheney five deferments; John Ashcroft, six deferments. Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Tom DeLay, all of their buddies, Dennis Hastert, Rush Limbaugh. There are a lot of people who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, and I know a lot of them. Most of them did it because they had moral qualms about that war.

But not these people. These people loved the war; they just wanted somebody else to fight it. And it occurs to me that the reason for that is that these are people who don’t understand the values that make America worth fighting for. But America is worth fighting for, and it’s worth dying for. Those of us who know that it’s worth fighting for have to take it back now from those who don’t. Thank you very much.

The entire speech is posted here: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Speech at the Sierra Summit, September 10, 2005

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7 Responses to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Those of Us Who Know That America’s Worth Fighting for Have to Take It Back Now from Those Who Don’t

  1. Marjorie G says:

    I always pay attention when he speaks or is on television. I rarely watch, but I do for him.

    I was there at Pace University when he endorsed Kerry early fall ’03, at a time NYC was running around for the proclaimed anti-war Kucinich and Dean. Many missed a real opportunity to see the mutual trust, respect, and hope both had for a Kerry presidency. They have devoted lives to their concern for the environment.

  2. Ben Mercadante says:

    Go Bobby!

  3. Marjorie

    He’s way up there on my heroes list. I’m reading Crimes Against Nature. I took a break from a a while ago to read something lighter (a novel about Cleopatra – LOL!).

  4. KJ says:

    Yes, keeping going, Bobby. And thank you.

    One of the highlights of my youth was campaigning for– and meeting– his father. March of 1968, early in what was to become that awful spring, summer and fall.

    It’s so heartening to hear people speak out with such clear passion and intellect, my impression of him is, he never stops. He’s just always traveling, speaking. Of course his voice would be hoarse.

    Others I admire: Terry Temptest Williams:

  5. Rita J. King says:

    For more information about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the perils of the mainstream media visit

  6. Ginny in CO says:


    Great blog. Manus is the type of knowledgeable, experienced and visionary professional we need to pull ourselves out of this. Thanks for giving him the podium! (I didn’t get to all the rest)

    His quote brings to mind the milestone experience I had at about 10 in DC, standing front of that statue and reading the words carved in the marble above him:

    … It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. … that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” [Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address]

    A new birth of freedom – definitely what our situation calls for.

  7. Dave says:

    “These people loved the war; they just wanted somebody else to fight it.”

    FINALLY!! Someone is talking about the fact that the Cons are run by a bunch of Chickenhawks. I don’t think the “strategists” in the DNC fully realize how powerful this line can be. Look at what it did for Paul

    Part of our (Dems, Liberals and progessives) is that we are perceived as draft-dodging, anti-war cowards who don’t love America enough to fight for her. The reason we are perceived like that is thanks to the Cons. They have pounded it home for years. Look at what they did to Clinton for going Oxford instead of Vietnam. But the truth is, they are everything they claimed we are. Why is this NOT being shouted from the mountain tops by the alledged “leaders” in our party?