We Must Name The System: Paul Potter 1965/2007


Public reenactment of a speech given by Paul Potter, former President of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), at the April 17, 1965 March on Washington. Potter offers an insightful critique of our government’s use of the rhetoric of freedom to justify war, and calls for citizens of the United States to create a massive social movement to build a “democratic and humane society in which Vietnams are unthinkable.” Max Bunzel delivered the speech on the National Mall on July 26, 2007.


“Most of the college-age spectators gathered there in a clutch were fully aware that they were witnessing art, but by the end they also seemed not to be simply playing along but to be engaged by Mr. Potter’s arguments.” 

- Randy Kennedy, The New York Times, July 2007

Quotes from speech:

"We must name that system. We must name it, describe it, analyze it, understand it and change it. For it is only when that system is changed and brought under control that there can be any hope for stopping the forces that create a war in Vietnam today or a murder in the South tomorrow or all the incalculable, innumerable more subtle atrocities that are worked on people all over all the time."


"How do you stop a war then? If the war has its roots deep in the institutions of American society, how do you stop it? Do you march to Washington? Is that enough? Who will hear us? How can you make the decision makers hear us, insulated as they are, if they cannot hear the screams of a little girl burnt by napalm?"

Reenactment info:

July 26, 2007

National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Production stills

Transcript of original 1965 speech by Paul Potter
Adobe Acrobat Document 44.9 KB
Adobe Acrobat Document 952.2 KB