"The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.
The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The first act of the film will open where the story of our graduates began—with the speech that represented the atmosphere of change and civic action that affected the class of ’64. Summing up the values of the 1950's they brought to Amherst classmates the act will examine Kennedy’s speech. The act will articulate a conflict of those values with the current culture and a longing to leave a more positive legacy.
On the campus that day were three young men: Richard 'Rip' Sparks, Charles 'Smokey' Stover and Peter Rubenstein. In this act we meet each of them and hear their recollections of who they were and where they thought they were headed in life, as well as their impressions of the Kennedy speech and how it, and his death three weeks later inspired them.
Sparks, now an accomplished environmental scientist credited with some very effective work cleaning up the Mississippi, will cap the act on an emotional note: "I was walking back from class across the campus and someone had put a radio up in the window of their dorm room in the quad. I heard this announcement that he'd been shot and then we all started gathering around radios or TVs and we heard then that he had died. But for me, the most critical thing was the coming together of the whole college that evening when President Plimpton, just talked to us for about 15 or 20 minutes. What he said at the end really influenced me. He said, "Let us stand a moment in silence to honor him, and then let us go do the things he couldn't complete." And that's when I decided to join the Peace Corps."
Amherst College 2014 -- Fifty years have passed and the Class of '64 gathers for a reunion themed "The world we inherited, and the world we leave behind." Reunion organizers issue a challenge to the class to examine the political, education and environmental challenges left to later generations to solve. In his keynote speech at the reunion, Amherst '64 classmate economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, makes a compelling case for examination of the divide in our culture, particularly the economic divide.
Working off the issues raised in his speech, the act will focus on how Rip, Smokey and Peter have been motivated to seek change. Rip's work in the Peace Corps in Nigeria led him through paleontology to environmental science. Peter thought he would go to medical school and devote himself to research, but became a rabbi -- one who is considered among the top rabbinical leaders in the country. Smokey also joined the Peace Corps, and returned to work in the public sector and eventually uprooted his young family to work on healthcare issues in the Philippines.
In Act two we will explore these three characters lives today and their focus on the future. Rip is still teaching and working in Illinois; Peter retired from Central Synagogue and took a position at NYC's 92nd Street Y, where he will lead discussions among disparate leaders and iconoclasts he would never have been able to connect in his work at his synagogue; Smokey has also retired, and found himself wrestling with the concentration of wealth that, as he sees it, "controls the political process." Frustrated, Smokey notes "It looks like they're not only making business policy, but making social policies. It just seems to me the wrong people are making the wrong decisions. My daughter has been very clear that her generation has inherited a mess. We fought against our parents in the 60's. It would seem to me that the best hope we have would be to work with our children and grandchildren toward a solution."
Enter Pierre Joseph, Amherst College Class of 2015. A Truman Scholar who grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, Pierre is a force on campus at Amherst and in his full-time job working in Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's state office. Pierre's curiosity is piqued by the class of '64. While he doesn't share their goals, he's interested in finding common ground, and a common goal. "One of the issues is developing a common working definition for democracy," Pierre says. "For the older group, they associate democracy exclusively with the act of voting. Under this definition, solutions become extremely limited (requires very little from the citizenry).The shift needs to be towards creating conditions for a participatory system, understanding that democracy is more than elections but a civic way of life - creating decision making institutions / supports that give regular people a say in the process (look at community action programs from the 60s or participatory budgeting today.")
This is the act that is beginning to take shape. These are the voices we will explore in this film. Each of our four main characters have given and continue to make sacrifices to accomplish change in their field and contributions to, as Pierre says "a civic way of life." How will they accomplish this? How can Kennedy's legacy continue to motivate change?
"I look forward to a great future for America," Kennedy told his audience at Amherst College in October, 1963. "A future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future." Kennedy lived only three weeks beyond that speech. The question is, can they continue to motivate the change required to accomplish a call to action?