Quotes On Democracy

The theme of W&J’s second annual Symposium on Democracy was Courageous Conversations: Civil Discourse in Divisive Times. Tying into the 2019 theme, these selected quotes on democracy come from artist Robert Shetterly’s portrait series, “Americans Who Tell the Truth.”

Robert Shetterly’s portraits of those quoted below can be viewed on the W&J campus for two weeks following the Symposium.

Selected Quotes on Democracy and Civil Discourse

“Too much and too long we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values to the mere accumulation of material things…The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America—except whether we are proud to be Americans.” – Robert F. Kennedy (Speech at University of Kansas, March 18, 1968)

“If we could be friends by just getting to know each other better, then what are our countries really arguing about? Nothing could be more important than not having a war if a war could kill everything.” – Samantha Smith, student and peace activist

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.” – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., clergyman and Civil Rights leader

“As a young man I tasted the bitter fruits of segregation and racial discrimination, and I didn’t like it. I used to ask my parents, my grandparents, and my great grandparents, ‘Why segregation? Why racial discrimination?’ And they would say, ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in trouble…’ But when I heard the words of Dr. King, I knew then that I could strike a blow against segregation and racial discrimination, and I decided to get in trouble. I decided to get in the way. But it was good trouble, necessary trouble. Democracy is not a state. It is an act.” – John Lewis, Civil Rights Activist and Congressman

“When people in a democracy are not educated in the art of living --- to strengthen their conscience, compassion, and ability to question and think critically --- they can be easily manipulated by fear and propaganda. A democracy is only as wise as its citizens, and a democracy of ignorant citizens can be as dangerous as a dictatorship.” – Paul K. Chappel, Army Captain, peace activist, writer

“Rights and responsibilities cannot be separated. Every right that we stand upon must be balanced by a set of corresponding responsibilities. We cannot legitimately make a demand unless we are willing to take responsibility for creating a world where that demand can be met.” – Sherri Mitchell, lawyer, Indigenous and Human Rights Activist

“It is our responsibility as global citizens to learn to communicate with those we are taught to see as enemies. For it is only when we understand each other, love each other, and think of every man and woman as our brother and sister that we will finally be on our way to ending war.” – Medea Benjamin, human rights advocate, anti-war activist, and author

“…jingoism, racism, fear, religious fundamentalism: these are the ways of appealing to people if you’re trying to organize a mass base of support for policies that are really intended to crush them.” – Noam Chomsky, linguist, political activist, writer

“…Much of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to the lack of imagination which prevents a realization of the experience of other people.” – Jane Addams, social reformer