Laurie Manis: Talking 'Bout My Generation
Talking 'Bout My Generation
By Laurie Manis
In gratitude to Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and the person I admire most, Helen Thomas
After 9/11, I also dared to hope, as did Tim Robbins, that some great good might come from the horrors of that day. I imagined that our leaders finally might begin to listen rather than pontificate; that my generation might finally be roused from its apathetic, avaricious condition and remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
However, to quote the extraordinary words of Mr. Robbins in his speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2003.
"And then came the speech: You are either with us or against us. And the bombing began. And the old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their neighbor for any suspicious behavior.
In the 19 months since 9-11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided, and a world population that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state."
Bravo, Mr. Robbins, bravo, for having the courage to speak out while so many of us remain silent.
"We can change the world -
Rearrange the world
It's dying - to get better."
When did we forget these words? When did we become so cautious, so fearful? When did we decide the good fight was no longer worth fighting?
When did we forget these words of Adlai Stevenson? "Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set."
Did it happen while we were talking on our cell phones as we drove our SUV's to the nearest Gap or Home Depot in order to buy more things we don't need?
When did we decide these words of Henry Steele Commager were irrelevant?
"Loyalty is the realization that America was born of revolt, flourished in dissent, became great through experimentation. Our tradition is one of protest and revolt, and it is stultifying to celebrate the rebels of the past while we silence the rebels of the present."
Was it while we waited, in our apathy and our greed, for the money of the neo-conservatives to trickle down to us?
In Mr. Robbins' speech, he referred to a famous middle-age rock star who called to thank him for speaking out against this war, adding that he could not do so himself for fear of repercussions from Clear Channel, which plays his music and books his concerts.
I understand. I empathize. I also took the path of least resistance for months after the events of September 11th. I am a widow whose late husband neglected to sell life insurance to himself. I have a son in college. I have another son who is in the Navy Reserves. I'm a social worker at Earned Income Credit level who stands to lose her job as a result of her activism. Should that happen, in this country's current economic and political climate, I no doubt would have great difficulty in finding another. In that event, my house and my car would be lost.
But when this President committed our fine young people in the armed services to fighting this war, in contempt of the U.S. Constitution and in criminal defiance of the UN Charter, while an appalling majority of our elected representatives cravenly stood by and did nothing, I no longer could remain silent.
If our troops, who swore to defend this country, not to engage in preemptive, unilateral strikes against a country that has done nothing to harm us since the end of the last Gulf War, are risking their very lives because they have no choice but to obey orders, how could I possibly defend my failure to exercise my Constitutional right to protest, simply because I might risk my mere livelihood?
I'm a Roman Catholic but the words of Martin Luther, "Here I stand, I can do no other." that had been haunting my conscience for months could no longer be denied for reasons of expediency.
Thus I began writing, daily, to my Representative and Senators. I began writing letters to the editors of local papers and they were published. I began submitting letters to web sites and they were posted. I became a plaintiff in the anti-war lawsuit filed against President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. I appeared on MSNBC Live. I began to be a guest on numerous talk radio shows.
After I got over myself, I began to wonder why I was receiving so much attention so quickly. I was stunned to realize that, despite the positive feedback I was receiving from countless people, I was and am one of an outrageously small minority willing to speak out against what is happening to and in our country.
Those of us fortunate to have been born in America need to remember that it is not enough for the citizens of a republic merely to pay taxes and obey the laws. It is our bounden duty actively to engage in its processes. Our elected representatives are our servants, paid by us and subject to our informed supervision and criticism. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" or, to quote another great American, James Baldwin, "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
We've always been accused of being the most selfish and self-centered generation this country ever produced. Let us now act to prove our critics wrong, once and for all. Certainly the possible repercussions are more frightening than they were back in The Day. The power is in the hands of far fewer people than it was then. But let us not forget that our unbridled greed, our unprecedented apathy and our vast carelessness were the causes of that too. That the risks are enormous only proves that the stakes have never been higher.
As a social worker, I act as program coordinator for elderly services. To my amused chagrin, my job has made me realize that our generation, which was so quick to denigrate our elders when we were young, now needs to turn to our parents' generation for inspiration, for they are the ones who are providing the profiles in courage today.
"Things they do look awful c-c-cold.
Talkin' 'bout my generation,
I hope I die before I get old."
We who sang so along with those words so cockily all those years ago, ought now to be burning with shame when we regard the indomitable courage of Senator Byrd; when we regard the uncompromising morality of Pope John Paul II; when we regard the unswerving journalistic integrity of Helen Thomas; when we consider that the principles of the Greatest Generation serve to make its members the people who are the most outspoken in their opposition to this war and our country's current climate of fear.
But then, they cut their teeth on Franklin Roosevelt's incomparable pronouncement, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror."
Let us, even at this late date, adopt those gallant words as our own.
In conclusion, I quote the words of Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, uttered in the year so many of us were born, 1950.
"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism ... are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism --
The right to criticize.
The right to hold unpopular beliefs.
The right to protest.
The right of independent thought.
The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood. Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own."
This Administration, which discourages debate and brooks no dissent, is using the basest form of propaganda when it informs us that we must support our troops because they are fighting for our 'freedoms'. And for us to remain silent in the face of such shameless hypocrisy, for fear of possible repercussions, makes a mockery out of the truly noble ideals of the fine young men and women serving in the armed forces.
Remember, there is strength and safety in numbers. If we can come together now as we did in our youth, nothing can harm us and we will prevail.
Manis is the daughter of a W.W.II veteran, the widow of a
Viet Nam veteran and the mother of a Navy Reservist. She was
a plaintiff in the anti-war lawsuit filed against President
Bush and is a member of Military Families Speak Out (
http://www.mfso.org/). Other editorials written by Ms.
Manis can be accessed at: http://www.mikehersh.com/
Other editorials written by Ms.
Manis can be accessed at: http://www.mikehersh.com/