Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The Free and The Brave?
Perhaps, dear readers, it doesn't take much applause (thank you so much all who commented on yesterday's post!!) to stir the synpases into reflection. It's your fault that I am now again ascending the soapbox. So, again, I pre-apologize.
When I was three years old….for those of you who need a quick calculator, that was 63 years ago….my far-thinking mother was publicly urging action against the pollution that was harming the bay we lived on back then. Sixty three years ago.
The bay was called Dyes Inlet…a beautiful, largely pristine area of Puget Sound’s vast inland waterways. At the head of the bay was a sawmill which daily belched toxic waste into the bay, with widespread and growing extinction of the sea life there. The bay was my world, as a child. I beachcombed for crabs and limpets and sand dollars and starfish. We swam in the bay all summer long. My mother was concerned. I suspect nowadays, she might well be a target for “terrorism,” if she were alive and trying to fight for regulation that would prevent pollution, with big business interests trying to squelch—more like destroy—the opposition.
But Mother was brave and she persisted. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She went directly to Senator Magnuson’s office…and took me with her. I am told (though don’t remember) that I, at three years of age, when letting go of Mother’s guiding hand for only a moment, marched straight up to the tall and imposing Senator Magnuson, and looking up past his knees, proclaimed with a bold, yet tiny voice: “Senator MagNUson, you have to do something about pollution.” Again, folks, that was 63 years ago. And the fight for our planet has just begun.
Worse, we Americans have grown used to not thinking. Expressing an opinion out loud is likely to bring about “unintended” consequences in today’s politically charged environment. As a population, we rely on “the other” to tell us what we SHOULD think.
Over the weekend MM and I watched the NFC and AFC conference championships (football for those who are not). I listened carefully to our national anthem as it was sung in both games. I also listened to the crowd as the noise rose and fell, most strongly when “the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air” were sung. The noise level surged into the upper decibel region. And I thought, isn’t it odd that we cheer loudest for war. (rockets and bombs) And then came the “free and the brave” part…the roar again erupted, and I thought, “We are no longer “brave” and we certainly aren’t free…at least in the sense that we have the right to be free from terror, (reference Gabrielle Giffords) or free to speak our minds (reference “my way or the highway” or the Palin-esque "Don't retreat, reload"). Those of us who would like to “discuss” understandably feel threatened. Perhaps more to the point, we have nearly lost the art of discussing. We shout, overpower, limit discourse, and display bad behavior at all levels.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech on January 6, 1941 that has come to be known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. The freedoms that all Americans were entitled to were:
1. Freedom of speech and expression
2. Freedom of worship
3. Freedom from want
4. Freedom from fear
How many of these do you believe are missing in today’s political, economic and environmental climates?
Sadly, Americans rely now on the right or the left or the centrist or the fringes to interpret and then to tell them what they should think and do. The last bravery on home soil was the Back-to-the-Land movement in the 1970’s, the so-called “hippies” who saw what was happening then: an unjust war and total intransigence on the part of those in power. Americans rebelled. They rioted. This was the heyday of the anti-war MOVEMENT. Indeed is was a "movement." Young and old, said NO! No, No, we won’t go! The protest songs were sung with loud clear voices, determined for “change.” It was an exciting time. And ordinary people joined hands and stood up for their Four Freedoms and more. And they were called “traitors” and “unpatriotic.” And many went to jail refusing to participate in the travesty of making war.
Now, today, though, we seem to have gone dormant. We imagine that change happens in some central casting…..Meanwhile, we simply “take it (whatever punishment--foreclosures, loss of job, rising costs of education...)” and wait for the pundits to “interpret” while we sit on our hands, lick our wounds and nurse our feelings of helplessness and abuse.
Not so in Tunisia. Not so. If you look at the faces of those who are protesting a corrupt government, you see hope, eagerness, a willingness to put one’s face and body on the line. We’ve lost that here in America. We’re too busy proving a self-fulfilling prophecy that says Americans are lazy, fat, and dumb. And, you know what?. We’ve lost our pride, we’ve lost our homes to thieves, we’ve lost our jobs to other countries, and worst of all….we’ve mostly lost hope . And that's how subjugation begins.
Or maybe more to the point, perhaps hope is all we have left. And we keep hoping, hoping, hoping….that some knight or knightress in shining armor, will come rescue us. It’s not going to happen, people. As the comic book character, Snuffy Smith, used to say, “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.” It's up to us. If we envision changing things, if we want things like GREEN energy, high speed rail, free education, public option health care, all the things that Europe enjoys....it's up to us. And it's not going to come easily or without a fight. And that fight must be generated at the grass roots. It's obvious the upper 1% of the population, where the wealth is concentrated is only interested in preserving the status quo.
It took my mother 15 years of persistent and vigorous lobbying efforts, but she made it. She won. The eyesore/sawmill came down, the polluting source was withdrawn, and the bay does not suffer from that today. I keep wondering, though, if the next battle there won't be over old septic systems, built when the population there numbered around 3,000--before it was 'discovered'-- as opposed to the present-day 70,000. And so the world turns.