Thanksgiving 1977 was spent in the ICA’s New York Regional House on the lower east side of Manhattan preparing for the next phase of the Town Meeting campaign. Our campaign team, which we named our “Strike Force” (a term stolen from our reading of the famous Chinese general Sun Tzu), had the ominous task of completing community forums throughout the eastern states. We were intent on conquering the eastern seaboard before Spring. After a weekend of celebration and planning Linda and Eric, Nancy Trask, and Tom Reemtsma were all sent back to hold down the Boston House and Region. I was assigned to go with the 15 or 20 volunteers making up the Strike Force.
We headed for Philadelphia, which was our base for the first two weeks of December. I was immediately dispatched to cover southeastern Pennsylvania. So I began my next solitary journey on a cloudy December day with only a highway map and a story to tell. Highway 30 took me to Downington, Coatesville, Lancaster, York, New Oxford, Hanover, and on the second or third day out on my circuit, I came upon a highway sign that gave me a little shiver and caused me to pull the car over to the side of the road: “Gettysburg 10 miles.”
I had of course memorized Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as most of my generation did, while still in grade school. And I had always felt this connection to Abraham Lincoln, the log cabin lawyer who rose to the highest office in the land and then was tragically taken down just as the war over which he presided to save the Union was finally over. Carl Sandberg’s Lincoln was my Lincoln. So I decided to take the afternoon off and spend it at the Gettysburg battlefield. It was an eerie experience for me. There was not a soul at the museum center. I literally was able to walk around the battleground undisturbed. I could almost hear the cannon and rifle fire and the yells of the soldiers as they charged up one hill after another and the screams of the wounded and dying men as they lay waiting to die or be picked up and taken to a field hospital. I stayed there until dusk, in a contemplative state, not wanting to leave.
I don’t recall much about how many towns were scheduled for Town Meetings during the two weeks working out of Philadelphia. But I will never forget the afternoon spent at Gettysburg.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.