In the years following the September 11 terrorist attacks, peace and justice groups in Oakland, California have organized a number of successful public readings of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in front of our Federal Building. We have involved local elected officials, community activists and students in the readings, which have often been preceded by press conferences linking the reading to issues of current concern. The readers are instructed not to change Dr. King’s words or add any of their own. Thus, local elected officials are compelled to hear Dr. King’s original words coming out of their own mouths.
Here’s a downloadable “kit” to help you organize a public reading in your community.
1) We have divided the speech into 16 sections, with an introduction. We suggest that you print out the introduction and speech in an enlarged font and assemble several 3-ring binders including the full set of materials.
2) Invite local elected officials, community leaders, activist groups and high school students to participate in a public reading in front of your Federal Building, City Hall or other suitable location. You may want to hold a press conference involving representatives of these constituencies in advance. You may need to secure a permit for a public assembly or sound system.
3) Set up a “podium” and some visuals. The podium can be as simple as a music stand draped with a cloth, where you can support one of the open binders, and posters or banners depicting Dr. King and whatever messages you want to project.
4) Begin the reading by sounding a gong or bell, signifying a moment of silence, and have someone read the introduction. You may wish to prepare a list of readers in advance, which you could post on butcher paper or a whiteboard. You should have an extra binder or two available so that readers can practice reading their sections in advance.
5) Provide your readers with a set of simple instructions so they will know that they should not make additional remarks. You may also wish to provide readers with badges identifying them as readers.
6) If there’s a lot of interest from prospective readers, you may wish to repeat the reading several times. In Oakland we have done as many as three consecutive readings, ending with a symbolic ceremony at sundown.
(prepared by Jackie Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation: firstname.lastname@example.org)