Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Members of the Cooperative League of the U.S.A.

May 20, 1964

WHEN Jerry and I served back there in the House together more than a decade ago, both of us felt that way about it. We never dreamed this would happen.

I am pleased to welcome you members of the cooperatives to the White House. The White House is the best known of all cooperatives because it is owned and operated by 190 million members. We use more power to burn fewer lights than any other house in the land. In fact, Lady Bird was glad to hear that you were coming today. She said to me this morning, "Please, Lyndon, for these fellows, let us turn on the lights today."

You probably heard that the Republicans have urged people to send me a penny to pay the White House light bill. Well, that far-reaching campaign, I think, for the Republicans was very successful. They forwarded 150 pennies. That is about the way most Republican campaigns operate.

Among the pennies that came in yesterday I found a letter from Barry Goldwater. Barry was generous, much more generous than the average Republican. He sent more than a penny. He sent a nickel, a wooden nickel.

I hope none of you brought your tape recorders this morning, but if you did, just go ahead and turn them on, because I am proud of what I have to say about cooperatives. I know what they do for people. I have watched it for many years.

Electricity down where I live on the ranch comes from the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, one of the first rural electric cooperatives organized in this country. I had a little bit to do with it. I guess you might say I was a male midwife for the REA.

The catalog of your accomplishments is large. You cooperatives brought credit when it seemed unobtainable. You brought light and power to rural Americans when it appeared out of reach. You brought modern telephone service to tens of thousands and lowered the price of gas and fertilizer to many thousands more.

You did all of these things, and more, because you believed that the strength of the fortunate many should be used to help the unfortunate few. Your goal has been opportunity for all and not just success for some. You have achieved so much because you cared most about people.

Today, unless our deepest values are to be smothered by affluence, and we wind up like the man who said, "I don't believe in principal, but I sure do in interest," those principles that have guided you must guide us all as we try to make the ideals of our democracy live in the reality of our experience.

I want to illustrate that need in at least three areas this morning:

First, because we care about people, we must not rest until justice conquers unbridled passion and unbending prejudice, until it knows neither color nor creed, and neither race nor region nor religion. For 20 million Americans are crying out this morning for the bread of justice, and let it never be said we condemned them to eat cake.

Second, because we care about people, we must always pursue without pause the war to end poverty, and bring to all Americans a decent chance to earn a decent living and lead decent lives.

I agree with another Johnson who lived in another country at another time, who said that poverty "takes away so many means of doing good and produces so much inability to resist evil, both natural and moral, that it is by all means to be avoided." If Samuel Johnson were living with us here today, I believe he would support this war on poverty, just as Jerry Voorhis did last week in that good column that he wrote, that he sent me. But the three of us alone would not be enough. We need the support of all of you. So help us to pass the anti-poverty bill. Go back to your homes and arouse your neighbors to help us, too.

With this bill, we can provide low-interest-rate loans to poor farmers who want to improve their operations. We can provide loans to new cooperatives, to provide low-income Americans with services that are not now available. With this bill we can start to break poverty's hold on those millions of rural Americans who do not have a chance to lead a more abundant life.

Help us, then, to strike the first blow by passing the bill that is now pending in the Congress, and I hope will be reported by the committee before long.

Third, because we care about people, we must seek justice and abundance not only for our own people but for all people who live on this spinning globe with us. Carlyle was right when he said that man is forever the brother of man. That sense of brotherhood so eloquently preached in the past must be earnestly practiced in the present, or civilization as we know it will come to an untimely and an ungainly end.

I am proud of what you are doing to help other people, and you must be proud, too, particularly helping other people in other lands to share in the fruits of our knowledge and our plenty.

It gave me a great deal of pride just last week to sign loans to four Latin American cooperatives which bring electric light and power to rural people in Nicaragua and Colombia, largely because of the work that some of our own people in this country did in providing the leadership.

Cooperatives and credit unions are helping throughout Latin America to bridge ancient barriers across which people must then walk if they are to know a better life. In efforts like these you have the opportunity to export not only the basic techniques of an industrial society but also to express the basic tenets of a free society.

So I hope you will increase your efforts in that direction. As you seek to help people abroad you must grow stronger at home. The revolution in food production and marketing in this country requires new programs to meet new challenges. I have already said that new legislation is needed to clarify the right of cooperatives to expand their operations by merger and acquisition. When this is accomplished, those who manage cooperatives can offer greater efficiency and those who use cooperatives will benefit by lower expenses.

I am very happy to be able to tell you this morning that I am quite proud of what you have done, and I will be equally proud of the record that you are now writing. You will always be welcome in this house, as long as I am President--and that could be some time with your help.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Jerry Voorhis, Executive Director of the Cooperative League and former U.S. Representative from California.

The column by Mr. Voorhis supporting the war on poverty program, to which the President referred, is published in the May 11 issue of "The People's Business," a semimonthly Cooperative news service feature.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Members of the Cooperative League of the U.S.A. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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