We Must Take America Back

A hard-hitting speech by Robert F Kennedy, Jr….read on


We Must Take America Back
By Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

t r u t h o u t | Speech

Saturday 17 September 2005

Speech delivered at the Sierra Summit 2005 San Francisco, California

I want to tell you how proud I am to accept the William O. Douglas Award.

Two of my most poignant memories as a child involved Justice Douglas. One of them was when I was 11 years old I did a 20 mile hike with my little brother David and with Justice Douglas and my father, which was a bird watching hike on the C & O Canal which he played a critical role in protecting. We started at four o’clock in the morning and walked all day. Then I did a 10 day pack trip with him. He took my whole family up to Olympic Range and the San Juan Peninsula and went camping for almost two weeks when I was eight years old.

Justice Douglas had a very strong relationship with my family. My grandfather brought Justice Douglas into public life and gave him his first job at the SEC as his deputy and then got Franklin Roosevelt to appoint him to run the SEC and played a critical role in getting him appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court. He said that his relationship to my grandfather was a father son relationship. When my father was 18 years old Justice Douglas took him for a walking tour of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, all the Asian Soviet Republics. They were the first Westerners to enter Soviet Asia after the 1917 revolution and they had an extraordinary trip and Justice Douglas wrote a book about it.

…over 400 major environmental roll backs that are listed there that have been implemented or proposed by this administration… It’s a stealth attack. Over 400 major environmental roll backs that are listed there that have been implemented or proposed by this administration… It’s a stealth attack

He had a very, very close relationship with my family and as an attorney the case that was the most important case, he was our greatest environmental jurist and the most important case was Sierra Club vs. Morton where he actually said that he believed the trees should have standing to sue [applause]. And there is nobody in American history than I more admire than him. What he understood which is what I think more and more people are understanding is that protecting the environment is not about protecting the fishes and the birds for their own sake but it’s about recognizing that nature is the infrastructure of our communities and that if we want to meet our obligation as a generation, as a civilization, as a nation which is to create communities for our children that provide them with the same opportunities for dignity and enrichment and good health.

As the communities that our parents gave us, we’ve got to start by protecting our environmental infrastructure, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the public lands, the fisheries, the wildlife, the public areas that connect us to our past, that connect us to our history, that provide context to our communities that are the source ultimately of our values and virtues and character as a people. Over the past 22 years as an environmental advocate, I’ve been disciplined about being non-partisan and bipartisan in my approach to these issues. I don’t think there is any such thing as Republican children or Democratic children.

I think the worst thing that could happen to the environment is it becomes the province of a single political party. It was mentioned that I have a book out there that is very critical of this president and that’s true but it’s not a partisan book. I didn’t write that book because I’m a Democrat and he’s a Republican. If he were a Democrat, I would have written the same book. I’m not objecting to him because of his political party and I’ve worked for Republicans if they’re good on the environment and democrats on the same level but you can’t talk honestly about the environment in any context today without speaking critically of this president. This is the worst [applause].

This is the worst environmental president we’ve had in American history.

Go here to read the transcripts of the entire speech.