The Unitarian Universalist hymn, Just as Long as I Have Breath, by Alicia S. Carpenter is a song describing someone fully engaged with life and inclined to move the human species forward. Two progressive activists who fit this description are the new Democrat Senator from Mass. Elizabeth Warren and the late union organizer and civil rights advocate, A.Phillip Randolph. The two may be from different eras and backgrounds but they share a strong devotion for the human spirit.
Just as long as I have breath, I must answer yes to life; though with pain I made my way, Still with hope I meet each day. If they ask what I did well, tell them I said yes to life.
Just as long as visions last, I must answer yes to truth; In my dream and in my dark, Always that elusive spark. If they ask what I did well, Tell them I said yes to truth.
Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer yes to love; disappointment pierced me through, Still I keep loving you. If they ask what I did best, tell them I said yes to love.
The meaning of life, the search for truth and the need for love are universal themes that connect us all and Ms. Warren and Mr. Randolph recognized this and dedicated their lives to lessening the suffering of others.
A. Phillip Randolph was born in Cresent City, Fla. in 1889, the son of a Methodist minister. He was a leader in the African-American civil rights movement, the American labor movement, a candidate for political office in NYC on the Socialist ticket and a long time humanist. He was the founder of the Brotherhood of Pullman Porters, the first black labor union in the United States. In WW II he was responsible for pressuring President Roosevelt to end racial discrimination in goverment defense factories. This lead to a bill creating the first Fair Employment Committee. Mr Randolph also founded a magazine called The Messenger, designed to encourage African-American laborers to demand higher wages. In 1963 he and Bayard Ruskin were the principal organizers of the “March on Washington” where Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech. After the speech Mr. Randolph was one of a few dignitaries invited to meet with the President.
Of his many quotes, this may be the one that embodies his life long struggle; “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights the biggest and most powerful possess”.
That last quote sounds like it could be written by the new Senator from Mass. Elizabeth Warren. She was born, June 22, 1949 in Oklahoma City, Ok. She has hit the ground running since her arrival in Washington, D.C. and shows no sign of backing down from her insistence that the American worker and consumer get a fair shake in this changing economy. Before her election to the Senate she was appointed by President Obama as Special Advisor for the Consumer Protection Bureau (2010-2011). During her tenure at the agency she gained notoriety as an advocate for the consumer and a watchdog over the banking industry.
Ms. Warren was a law professor at Harvard and attended Rutgers Univ. and the University of Houston. She is the author of these books; The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke, and The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt. These book titles give a hint to her background of fighting for the social contract between the goverment and it’s citizens remeniscent of Democratic programs like the “New Deal” after the Great Depression and the “Great Society” progarms of the 60’s.
During the last Democratic National Covention Ms. Warren made a speech insisting we all have a role to play in helping the country prosper. She warned about certain sectors rigging the system in their favor at the expense of the poor and middle class. She reinforced this by quoting passages from the bible where Jesus commanded that the lest of us are to be treated with dignity and respect.This concept of whats known as the”Social Gospel” is what drives some Christians to do the right thing by his fellow man. This is also a tenent of humanism and is not dependant on one religion or doctrine. This is basiclly what the Golden Rule exposes.
The author of the song lyrics, Alicia S. Carpenter is a Unitarian Universalist, a small demomination in the U.S. but one with a rich history of fighting for social justice and equality for all. This faith does have Christian roots but has expanded over the years to include theists, agnostics, atheists, buddhists, pagans, humanists and anyone else not concerned with religious dogma but universal principals that advance knowledge and understanding.
Sometimes it’s not important for us all to sing from the same songbook. The song we sing may be in more than one book.