Text of a speech given by Dorothy Day in Union Square on November 6, 1965, supporting draft-card burners. The speech was later reprinted in The Catholic Worker newspaper.

[1] When Jesus walked this earth; True God and True man, and was talking to the multitudes, a woman in the crowd cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that bore you and the breast that nourished you.” And he answered her, “Yes, but rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Dorothy Day speaking at Union Square protest on November 6, 1965. Photo: Diana Davies via Jim Forest.

[2] And the word of God is the new commandment he gave us–to love our enemies, to overcome evil with good, to love others as he loved us–that is, to lay down our lives for our brothers throughout the world, not to take the lives of men, women, and children, young and old, by bombs and napalm and all the other instruments of war.

[3] Instead he spoke of the instruments of peace, to be practiced by all nations–to feed the hungry of the world,–not to destroy their crops, not to spend billions on defense, which means instruments of destruction. He commanded us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, to save lives, not to destroy them, these precious lives for whom he willingly sacrificed his own.

[4] I speak today as one who is old, and who must uphold and endorse the courage of the young who themselves are willing to give up their freedom. I speak as one who is old, and whose whole lifetime has seen the cruelty and hysteria of war in this last half century. But who has also seen, praise God, the emerging nations of Africa and Asia, and Latin America, achieving in many instances their own freedom through non-violent struggles, side by side with violence. Our own country has through tens of thousand of the Negroe [sic] people, shown an example to the world of what a non-violent struggle can achieve. This very struggle, begun by students, by the young, by the seemingly helpless, have led the way in vision, in courage, even in a martyrdom, which has been shared by the little children, in the struggle for full freedom and for human dignity which means the right to health, education, and work which is a full development of man’s god-given talents.

[5] We have seen the works of man’s genius and vision in the world today, in the conquering of space, in his struggle with plague and famine, and in each and every demonstration such as this one–there is evidence of his struggle against war.

[6] I wish to place myself beside A. J. Muste speaking, if I am permitted, to show my solidarity of purpose with these young men, and to point out that we too are breaking the law, committing civil disobedience, in advocating and trying to encourage all those who are conscripted, to inform their conscience, to heed the still small voice, and to refuse to participate in the immorality of war. It is the most potent way to end war.

[7] We too, by law, myself and all who signed the statement of conscience, should be arrested and we would esteem it an honour to share prison penalties with these others. I would like to conclude these few words with a prayer in the words of St. Francis, saint of poverty and peace, “O Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

Text source: Day, “Union Square Speech,” Speech Text – Voices of Democracy (umd.edu)

About the speech

On November 6, 1965, Dorothy Day addressed a crowd of about 1,500 people who had gathered at Union Square, New York City, to witness five Catholic peace activists burn their draft cards. Thomas Cornell, Marc Paul Edelman, Roy Lisker, David McReynolds, and James Wilson—all members of the Catholic Worker movement—burned their draft cards in defiance of the 1965 amendment to the 1948 Universal Military Service and Training Act that prohibited any alteration of a draft card. Their action was intended as an act of solidarity with Catholic pacifist David Miller, who had earlier set a precedent by becoming the first U.S. war protester to publicly burn his draft card on October 15, 1965. Following his demonstration, FBI agents arrested Miller, leading to a trial where he was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison.

Day’s speech, though nearly drowned out by the crowd’s noise, was later reprinted in The Catholic Worker newspaper. Day’s words and the actions of the draft card burners contributed to a growing shift in Catholic perspectives on pacifism during the Vietnam War era.


Up in Flames: Draft Card Burning in NYC | Episode 3 | PBS

Pacificism – Dorothy Day (cuny.edu)

Nov. 6, 1965: Draft Card Protest – Zinn Education Project (zinnedproject.org)

News clippings from the New York Times and Commonweal

Cover photo: Neil Haworth, courtesy of War Resisters League

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