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Using Peace and Justice to Shape Political Policy

Concept Served as Cornerstone for Popular Congressman's Career

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted December 1, 1999

On a spring day in 1967, Ron Dellums was one of 25,000 students gathered on Sproul Plaza to hear the inspirational words of Martin Luther King Jr.

Though standing at the back of this massive crowd, Dellums said he felt King was speaking directly to him.

"I never wanted to be a politician; I had other designs for my life," Dellums, former congressman and chairman of the Armed Services committee, told a rapt audience at International House Nov. 18.

But listening to King's call for peace and justice that day "changed my life," he said.

"I feel like Dellums did after he heard Martin Luther King speak over 30 years ago. I'm motivated to do something significant."

-- Omowale Fowles, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Public Health

This experience, set against the backdrop of an enormous groundswell of activism in the Bay Area during that time, propelled Dellums to run for political office. He hoped to initiate the kind of fundamental changes King spoke about so eloquently that day.

He was elected to Congress in 1970 and served for nearly 30 years. And by most accounts, Dellums succeeded in making peace and justice a consideration in the most unlikely of government arenas &endash; national security policy.

A call for disarmament in Vietnam, the abandonment of plans to deploy the MX-mobile missile, the curtailment of production of the B-2 Bomber, the defeat of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" defense project, and the requirement that President Bush secure Congressional approval before launching military action in the Gulf War are among Dellums' most notable achievements.

"Peace is more than the absence of war; it is the presence of justice," said Dellums, quoting one of King's doctrines. "This message is what guided me during my time in Congress."

Now retired for more than a year, Dellums, who received a masters degree in social welfare from Berkeley, said it is time for America's young people to take on this cause with renewed vigor. "I challenge you to do that," he said to thunderous applause.

Crafting a new national security agenda that will lead the country and world into a more peaceful millennium should be at the top of America's list of priorities, said Dellums.

The first step should be shoring up the citizenry right here in America, to ensure that all segments of society have access to education, employment, housing and health care. "We have one of the most powerful militaries in the world but our inner cities are crumbling. We have homeless people on the street and children killing each other. What are we protecting?"

Dellums also called for a more enlightened foreign policy &endash; one that addresses the conditions that give rise to war, as opposed to using military action when things get out of hand. A military that trains soldiers as peace keepers, not warriors, is also required. "We need a military that deals with reality, not fantasies," he said.

Since leaving Congress, Dellums has spearheaded an effort to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa. "Africa is dying," said Dellums, passionately. "That 11 million people have died there while the world has stood by silently is morally unacceptable."

He presented staggering statistics to illustrate the enourmous toll this disease has taken -- 6,000 Africans die each day, 11,000 are infected every 24 hours and more than 2.3 million Africans will die this year from AIDS.

While an increasing number of HIV/AIDS patients in the United States are improving their health and life expectancy with new drugs and support systems, there are no parallel resources in most African countries, he said.

"Access to treatment can sustain and enhance life," said Dellums. "Every human being on the planet should have access; the only debate should be how to do it."

Dellums encouraged everyone in the audience to support the AIDS Marshall Plan for Africa, federal legislation that calls for the appropriation of $1 billion over the next five years to assist AIDS victims in Africa.

As Dellums closed his eloquent and often fiery speech, he was met with an extended and loud standing ovation.

"It was brilliant and awe-inspiring," said Omowale Fowles, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Public Health, of Dellums' oratory. "I feel like Dellums did after he heard Martin Luther King speak over 30 years ago. I'm motivated to do something significant."

Dellums' lecture was given in conjunction with the announcement of a new endowed chair in peace and conflict studies. The Ronald V. Dellums Chair Endowment will subsidize a professorship and an annual lecture, as well as extend the program's research and teaching efforts.



December 1, 1999 - January 11, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 16)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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