An Open Letter to America:
“Now is the time for us to stand up and stand together”
By Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.
July 1, 2007
My Fellow Americans:
The power of our voices against the U.S. occupation of Iraq is reaching the top echelons of the military and the administration. Our government is persecuting Americans who speak out against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The U.S. military has launched politicized attacks on its own military members and moral leaders who oppose the war to discredit their voices of dissent.
We have seen them target Cpl. Adam Kokesh to stop him from exercising his freedom of speech, after risking his life in Fallujah, Iraq. We have seen them threaten Sgt. Liam Madden for publicly stating the legal fact that the U.S. invasion is a war crime according to the Nuremberg principles. They have targeted Cpl. Cloy Richards, a soldier put in the media spotlight when his mother Tina Richards worked to get him the health care he needs after returning from Iraq eighty percent disabled. These are not happenstance targets. These young men are leaders of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and they are speaking out in a strong and coordinated way.
And now I have been targeted.
Who am I? Many of you know me as a reverend, an activist, an architect of Hip Hop politics and a freedom fighter, but I am also an Officer in the United States Air Force Reserve. I have long been in the struggle for peace and freedom and I serve proudly as a leader of faith. I joined the military as part of the “poor peoples draft” – to help pay for my education. In May 2000 I was commissioned as an Officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and was accepted into the Chaplain Candidates program. In 2002 I graduated from Howard University School of Divinity, Magna Cum Laude. I was ordained a Reverend and Elder in the Church of God in Christ shortly after my graduation and today I remain in good standing in the Church. In May 2003 I completed the Chaplain Candidates program, but I decided not to pursue a career as a Chaplain in the Air Force. I have been in the Air Force Reserve Individual Reserve program ever since.
On March 26th of this year I received notification from the Air Force that they are taking action to honorably discharge me on the basis of “behavior clearly inconsistent with the interest of national security.” Ironically, this letter arrived six days after I announced the launching of a national “Make Hip Hop Not War” Tour at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
On July 12, 2007, when I leave Robbins Air Force Base after my discharge hearing, whether I remain an Officer or not, I will be a leader always, and a patriot evermore committed to ending this immoral war.
In February 2003 I felt the sense of urgency many felt in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq to speak out. Even though I was only a Chaplain Candidate and a 2nd Lieutenant, when I had the opportunity to preach at Andrews Air Force Base, the home of Air Force One, the message that I preached was “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Since then hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans have lost their lives and we now face a state of permanent warfare in our world.
This moment in history is our generation’s lunch-counter moment – Iraq is our Vietnam and New Orleans is our Birmingham. Our generation could be the generation to defeat racism, poverty and war, but only if we come together as people of conscience. In the movements of the 60’s, solidarity among the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement was never truly achieved. As the “Hip Hop generation” – a generation where the sons and daughters of former slaves work side by side with the sons and daughters of former slave owners – we have the ability to bridge the gap and link movements for peace, justice, civil rights and the environment in true solidarity.
We will not make the world safer – or achieve true national security – by starting wars that put our humanity at risk and we are certainly not making our country safer by intimidating veterans who courageously speak out. Policies that address the issues of poverty, racism, climate change, the economy and jobs are at the core of national security. I will continue to speak out against the war, seek justice for Katrina survivors, fight against racism, struggle for equality and advocate for a healthy planet. I hardly think that this sort of behavior is “inconsistent with the interest of national security.”
My brothers and sisters, opposition to this illegal war and occupation is not a cause - it constitutes a response to a state of emergency. It is our urgent responsibility to stop this war. According to the Book of Psalms, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I know it looks bad now and our hope seems to wane and sometimes we want to give up. But, if we can all come together - black and white, brown and yellow, rich and poor, male and female, straight and gay, republican and democrat - whether you still love this country or are withdrawn in anger, not only can we defeat this war and restore justice and democracy, there will once again be joy in the morning.
My mother in the movement, Cindy Sheehan, will be with me on July 12th at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and I urge you to join me on the 12th as well. I also urge you to continue to increase your activism. This is our lunch-counter moment.
For Future Generations,
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is President of the Hip Hop Caucus. Much needed donations to his legal defense fund can be made at:
You can contact the Hip Hop Caucus at 202.787.5256 or at [email protected].