Richard Gregory has died.
During his life, he fought against segregation, disenfranchisement, racism, gender equality, and economic injustice. He also fought for animals:
I had been a participant in all of the ‘major’ and most of the ‘minor’ civil rights demonstrations of the early sixties. Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became convinced that nonviolence meant opposition to killing in any form. I felt the commandment ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other—war, lynching, assassination, murder, and the like—but in their practice of killing animals for food and sport. Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel, and brutal taking of life.
That acknowledgement—that we are not the only creatures to be entitled to the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—is rare amongst our species; rare among the leaders we follow and rare among those in history whose shoulders we stand upon. But Dick Gregory knew it. And so should the rest of us.
This is a photograph of Earth, taken by Voyager when it was 3,762,136,324 miles from home. “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us,” noted Carl Sagan. “On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering … every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer … every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” But we have not lived here alone. So has every one of the other nearly 10,000,000 species we know of.
And from that sunbeam, all of us have evolved: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Each creature on this planet—every person reading from their smartphones, every dog stretched out on our couches, every cat sunning themselves on our beds, every mouse hiding in our attics, every pigeon roosting in our buildings, every cow, every fish, every pig, every one of the other inhabitants of planet Earth—has the spark of those stars, too.
Together, we share the capacity to love. Indeed, love is “natural selection’s most compelling force, driving us and our fellow animals to care beyond reason for our families, loved ones, and children.” And together, we suffer: “sorrow following a death has been observed on the farm—among goats, pigs, ducks—and in the oceans…”
Wrote Sagan: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
That plea, that admonition, that call for action—to preserve and cherish and deal more kindly with one another—must include all the other creatures who share the only home we’ve ever known. As Dick Gregory asked us to do.
RIP, cosmic giant.
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