In November, 2009, James Lawson, his brother Phil Lawson and their civil rights co-worker, Vincent Harding, called a handful of veterans from 20th century social justice movements to begin organizing a (U.S.) Council of Elders whose members would offer their insights and support to leaders and activists of the 21st century.

Already the National Council of Elders has grown to include veterans of a wide range of 20th century civil rights, justice, environmental, LGBT, and peace movements.

Our History

The Council of Elders was born out of a vision that Dr, Vincent Harding, Rev. James Lawson and his brother Rev. Phil Lawson shared. Each was responding to their sense that the nation and current leaders in the 21st century could benefit from the wisdom and failures of the great non-violent movements for justice and democracy of the 2oth century.

Each of these leaders had mentored young people who were drawn to their commitment to non-violent resistance and the deep spirituality that undergirded their movements. In California, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice had built their organizing model out of these roots under the guidance of Rev. Jim Lawson and was excited about being a place to incubate the vision of a national Council of Elders that brought together leaders from the diverse movements of the past such as the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ, Immigrant Justice, labor rights and current movements striving to address racial, gender and economic inequalities.

Their vision was shared by many others and an organizing committee was formed to be the launching point for a national gathering, a platform for commentary on the state of the nation and a structure for providing mentorship to young leaders.

Press Conference Announcing Formation of NCOE

Greensboro, NC
July 31, 2012

Council of EldersGREENSBORO DECLARATIONStatement of Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street

Greensboro Declaration

The Council of Elders, a newly organized, independent group of leaders from many of the defining American social justice movements of the 20th century, declared today that we stand in basic solidarity with the national Occupy Wall Street movement and the committed young people who give guidance to this important quest for justice in the 21st century. We wish to explore every possible, helpful way in which we can connect together the continuing flame of the justice and democratizing movements of the 20th century with the powerful light of the emerging movements of the present time, reflected in the Occupy Wall Street initiatives.

As veterans of the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ, Immigrant Justice, labor rights and other movements of the last 60 years we are convinced that Occupy Wall Street is a continuation, a deepening and expansion of the determination of the diverse peoples of our nation to transform our country into a more democratic, just and compassionate society—a more perfect union. We believe that the rapidly expanding and racialized impoverishment of our population, the rise of mass incarceration, the celebration of the culture of war and violence all create the bitter divisions among the peoples of our nation and throughout the world. Indeed, we believe such developments among us ultimately diminish the quality of life for all humanity, beginning with our own children who watch as we lower the priority for their care and education.

We applaud the miraculous extent to which the Occupy initiative has been non-violent and democratic, especially in light of the weight of violence under which the great majority of people are forced to live, including joblessness, foreclosures, unemployment, poverty, inadequate health care, etc. Among the Council of Elders, we place the highest value on the role of compassion and non-violent action in our personal and organizational lives. From that hard-won grounding in the humanizing movements of the 20th century we seek to support and join with Occupy Wall Street in contributing to the dreams and visions of many in this nation for a beloved community, a multi-generational, multi-racial, compassionate, democratic society with equality, liberty and justice for all—always searching for partners in the creation of a more peaceful, sustainable world, a world with living, loving and growing space for all of our children.

-September 12, 2012

Grace Lee Boggs’ message to Occupy Wall Street – 10/9/11 from American Revolutionary on Vimeo.

About this video:
“Philosopher and Activist Grace Lee Boggs, who has been an active participant in the struggles for social justice for over 70 years, has this message for the people of Occupy Wall Street and the growing movement across the country and around the world.
This is the start of a dialogue, the beginning of a conversation.
More information on the documentary in progress

National Elders Council in solidarity at Occupy Wall Street Nov 20, 2011

The elders support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.


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