Friday, January 06, 2006

Political Courage

I have been struck by the virulence of George Bush's response to criticism of his recently-revealed, illegal spying on domestic Americans. I am even more astounded by his "signing letter" related to the renewed Patriot Act in which he, with unbelievable arrogance, declares the McCain Amendment against torture to be his to interpret, his to avoid if he says so, his call. It is that sort of Karl Rovean and Dick Cheneyean stick-in-your-eye retort, a virtual "what are you gonna do about it" response that challenges everyone to look around for allies and friends. It portends a very difficult time for all Americans.

But, we have let this happen to ourselves, you know. We have dreamt of some guy coming along to save us from the terror of Islamic Jihadists and our own homegrown madmen, from poverty, from social progress and social justice, even from association with human beings of other colors, classes, and creeds. We have hoped way beyond reason that the 1960's would finally go away, leaving us in our fat American cars to vacation at littered beaches and amusement parks and drink beer until we are senseless. We have hoped that God still loves our country and that second coming will somehow be an American event, bigger and better even than the Super Bowl or the World Series, bigger even than WalMart!

We are a nation of ignorant, thumbsucking, hindbrained immigrants, whose typical claim to fame is that our ancestors had the good sense to bail out from wherever they were—dying of starvation, unemployment, disease, despair—yearning to breath free, but scarcely understanding that with freedom comes personal and public responsibility. We are nation of cheats and petty lawlessness. We cheat on our taxes at every level of society. We break traffic laws with impunity and with utter disregard for 55,000 deaths each year because of it. We condone stealing when it benefits ourselves or hurts our supposed malefactors. We own and misuse guns, allowing criminals to murder thousands of us annually. We (some of us) believe catastrophically insane religious doctrines because they give us respite from our days and a sense of belonging that only well-rehearsed brain-washing will. The rest, well, we slumber through religion as if an omniscient God would somehow not notice. We are childishly stupid, you see, unable to draw a logical conclusion from our vocabularies, unwilling to draw rational inferences from our real experience.

Do you wonder that Dick Cheney thinks so little of us that he would offer up our entire military to torture by our enemies, and just so that he can drag two cents worth of blood-stained intelligence from an some occasional Arab caught in his web of pseudo-security and Machiavellian machismo? Do you wonder that rich brat George, in his drug-induced, brain twitch of cognitive incompetence, would care so little for us that he would joke about devastation in New Orleans and then put the most corrupt advisor ever admitted to the West Wing in-charge of dispensing federal assistance? Do you really wonder that Donald Rumsfeld would sacrifice American men and women for a lost cause based on manifestly insane reasoning and manufactured evidence?

You should not wonder. It is the reappearance of the slaveholder mentality in America, the fundamentally and diametrically freedom-opposed notion of a society composed of big winners and pathetic losers, entirely antithetical to the idea of a democratic community of persons.

Why do you not know you are at war with some of your fellow Americans, fighting for your very life, for the promise of opportunity for your children? Are you comatose? What will it take to get you to understand that the Right is Wrong? They are selling you cheap, meaningless, emotional gratification for the price of your liberties and freedoms, and you are buying it by the ton. With politics you have always "let Joe do it," partly because you are lazy and partly because you are insecure and don't know how to talk to public people. How tragically pathetic!

Listen! They really do want your freedoms curtailed, your liberties lost. Why? It is because they believe in a society in which those who have proven themselves to be capable of callous indifference to working people by becoming fabulously rich themselves are to be the vanguard of society, the best, the elite, the "philosopher kings," the ones who mean to be supported and enriched further by government, who will spend your taxes to support themselves and their feckless children forever. In the end they will provide you a little job and your kids a little classroom so that you can stay little just where you are and serve their interests. They don't despise you; they give you only the interest they would give a passing bug, something to swat when it dares to crawl near their hors d'oeuvres or cocktail, but otherwise easily ignored.

Who tells you different? Does your parish priest or parson tell you to disregard politics and all this worldly stuff? Think about it; they want your tithe, your children's minds, your freedom of choice, your freedom to be what you are. This is worldly stuff, and they tell you how to vote, and when to be vocal about people they do not like. Did Jesus or Mohammed or Moses or Buddha or Mithra or any of the pantheon really hate homosexuals? Did they really preach "abstinence?" Did they condone slavery, promote union-busting, and ask you to kill people who wear turbans or bikinis?

Do your television newscasters tell you the truth; do he and she litter your viewing with crime stories and meaningless jabber about meaningless events in towns that look like yours but have their WalMart across from Walgreens? In fact, they tell you what their corporate offices tell them to tell you. They are little parts of huge conglomerate corporations who see people as consumption units and as percentage points on scoresheets created to define the cost of advertizing on the airwaves we the people gave them for free. You should watch the Weather Channel for news, cartoons for baby-sitting, and Commander-in-Chief or West Wing for a rare glimpse of intelligent progress.

We are going to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney soon. Are you ready for it? Do you have the courage to call your Representative?

You know him, the guy who calls himself a Congressman, but is really the Representative of the citizens of your district. He's the guy who says he's all for improving the economy of your district, but seems to miss the point that a rightwing conspiracy has really taken over the government? Will you call him and tell him to honor his oath of office? Will you tell him you are very afraid that if George and Dick are not impeached now they may just toss out the Constitution altogether. Will you tell him the Constitution is not "just a g.d. piece of paper," it is the backbone and muscle of the greatest experiment in government and social justice ever conceived. Will you?

This may be your last chance, friend.

This is what you do. You look up the phone number of your representative here.

Okay, now you know your District number and have found your Representative's website and Washington and local telephone numbers. If you are smart you will notice what committees your Representative is assigned to. Your first call will be simply this.

The phone rings and quickly someone answers, saying, "Congressman 'Smith's' office. How may we help you?"

"Hello? My name is (your name) and I live in (your town/city/county). (Take a breath ... you're doing fine so far.)
"I was wondering when Representative 'Smith' will be available in the district next. Can you tell me if any open meetings have been scheduled for, say, the next month?"

The staff assistant will either know off the top or will check with someone else and get back to you. "Congressman 'Smith' will be in (yourtown) on (whenever). Is there anything else we can help you with today?"

"No. Thanks," you respond. "I hope to talk with Mr. 'Smith' about domestic spying soon, that's all."

Your Representative may have a stock answer for your comment, or may be just a junior person who is not allowed to discuss things with constituents. You will listen for an opening, but really don't want one on this call. Your response should be this: "Okay, thanks again. I will be in touch as soon as I can. Can I have your name, please. I really appreciate the way you handled my call."

The person gives his or her name. You can almost see the smile beam through the telephone.

You say: "Well, thanks 'Julie'/'Fred'/'Ms.Jones'.

You have just called your Representative! Hooray! You are now part of the political process and, guess what, it's not all that difficult and certainly not sordid or slimey. It's just people talking to people. Write down the name given to you and save it.

Sit on the experience and think about who that person who answered the phone might be. If you called Washington it could be a resident of the Washington metropolitan area, someone who grew up there or who came from your state or district to Washington because of the government. If you called locally, it could be anyone from your district, perhaps a person you have met somewhere.

Think about what the person said about domestic spying, if they said anything at all. Notice whether the person was interested in what you might say to Representative "Smith" or not. Listen to the edges of the conversation for signs of openness or, sometimes, self-importance or in-groupitis. Congressional offices, both Representatives' and Senators' are usually well oiled machines after a year in office, but sometimes are staffed with "legacy" workers they inherit from contributors.

Next week you are going to call and ask for a senior staff member and you are going to talk with him or her about impeachment. Scarey, yes, but we will walk through that call in a couple of days. Stay tuned!

James Richard Brett