Thursday, February 21, 2002

A Little History

Thanks to Mike Golby's pointers, I have been reading recent posts and related comments on burningbird’s and wonderchicken’s (and, of course, b!X’s) sites about our current government’s, again, inept handling of relationships with other countries – this time, Korea.

In her post, burningbird asks: I wonder when Ashcroft will decide that weblogging is anti-patriotic?

And in the middle of the ensuing discussion/comments Rogi makes one statement that terrifies me.
But if i'm going to say what I think then I'll do it somewhere else, like, uh, Switzerland or something. Not here on American weblog territory. I'll do something sometime soon and point you to it from my deep bunker.;)

I remember a time when, while it was sometimes dangerous to physically go out and protest and make one’s political stance and opinions known – and known personally and LOUDLY – we did it by the thousands – the hundreds of thousands. Most of you reading this would have been toddlers or maybe pre-teens during those times, or maybe even still, as they used to say, a “gleam in your father’s eye.” (I always hated that phrase; it gives all credit for blatant sexuality to the guy!)

We were in our twenties and thirties, some even older. The Viet Nam War angered us, humiliated us, tore our hearts out. We protested as our situations would allow. My (ex) husband created anti-war theater pieces and supported the protests of the college students on the campus where he taught. I was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler (b!X) and his sister Melissa, who was around 8 or 9, so my protests were limited. One of our favorite family stories was about my sewing up huge a pseudo-flag made of candy-striped material with a big star-studded peace sign appliqued in the corner. I hung it from a tree on our property that faced the main road. All of the other houses in our rural neighborhood had their American flags proudly posted in response to the President’s request for all citizens to put out their flags for the Labor Day weekend.

Within an hour, my neighbor across the street was on the phone yelling at me about that “thing” I had waving in their faces while her husband cursed “those Commies” etc. etc. from the background. I explained what it was and that I had the same right to hang it up on my property as she had to display Old Glory. And then I followed through on my plans to take the kids down to visit my parents, who lived 150 miles away. The next day, we got a phone call from my husband (who didn’t come with us) saying that when he got home that night, he found my peace banner torn into strips, rolled into balls, and tossed all over our yard. While he had thought that my hanging the banner was like waving a red flag into front of a bunch of already-crazed bulls, he was really pissed that someone (probably a neighbor) actually would come up and destroy what was on our property when no one was home. He wrote a letter to the (then) Hearst newspaper defending my right to do what I did. They published it in a box in the center of the Opinion page. And for weeks after we got phone calls telling us that “they were coming to get us.” Nothing happened.

If someone were to do that today, what do you suppose would happen?

Of course, history documents much more vocal, well-attended, and explosive protests during that time. The point is that those in my generation felt obligated – and free enough – to stick their faces out there and open their physical mouths. I’m not saying that there weren’t unfair arrests and trials among the leaders of various movements. But I am saying that even innocuous people like me felt the need to take a public stand.

Now just about all of the stands are virtual. And we are all afraid that even that is going to get us into trouble.

Remember, b!X, when we marched on the Pentagon to protest our government’s involvement in Guatemala? That hot summer day among those thousands and thousands of banners and signs and sweaty chants for justice and peace? You were only about 9 years old and you got a bloody nose just before we got to the Pentagon, and dozens of people appeared with ice and kleenex and advice on how to stop it. And we sat in the shade on a little hill to eat our lunches and wait to see if that other bunch really would “levitate” the Pentagon, as they promised they would.

What are the chances of that happening today? (Not the levitating – the actual marching by the thousands, openly and vocally demanding a change in the decisions and actions of our political leaders.)

And I also remember, b!X, when, during the Gulf War, you bussed down from Albany -- and your sister went from New York City after marching there first -- to protest in Lafayette Park. And she rounded a corner, and there you were, drumming on an upturned plastic pail. I still have the picture she took of you displayed proudly on my wall.

After I heard about my cousins' kids, I wrote:

Desert Storm: A Family Scapbook

Someone’s son huddles
gravely under desert rain.
restless as his heartbeat,
he waits for signs in the sky
to turn the taste of metal
in his mouth to blood.

Someone’s daughter,
leather jacketed, baseball capped,
takes her place in U.N. Square,
lights a candle against the wind, and
joins her voice to the hymn
that pulses like blood
through the streets, through the night,
through the weary dreams of men
reduced to war.

Someone’s daughter runs
from classroom through snow,
stuffs her duffle to bursting
with camouflage and conviction,
prays for the chance
to set the skies ablaze with truth.
At the table of her father’s house,
she waits for orders
and watches the colors of dawn
melt like blood into sand.

Someone’s son
boards a bus at midnight,
sheathed in a confusion of
army surplus and disbelief.
He joins the dawn in Lafayette Park,
seeking solace – if not answers –
in the steady drum,
the solid hands,
the strong songs
of sons and daughters
refusing to bleed
for the dreams of weary men
reduced to war.