Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Was I a Good American in the Time of George Bush?

No, I wasn't. And it tears me apart. It keeps me up late at night. The weight of our national karma is at times, unbearable.

When I was little, I recall - perhaps it was third grade - doing a history report during our study of WWII. By some freak chance, my report was on the Holocaust. Imagine... researching the Holocaust as a third grader. I had nightmares for weeks, maybe months. For some odd reason, I had dreams of marching boots and of soldiers pounding on our door in the middle of the night. I'd wake up screaming.

The photos that came to light, still haunt me today. I recall the fear and loathing I felt towards Germans - any Germans - for allowing that to happen. And then I realized... some of my ancestors were German. Oh, they weren't in Germany during WWII, but sure enough, I was part German.

From that point on, I wouldn't talk about that part of my ancestry. I rejected it, outright. I was 'Irish and Scottish.' I was a Celt. My Irish ancestors came over during the potato famine, and it was much easier to claim ancestors who survived tyranny and disaster, than ancestors who could coldly murder an entire race of people. Or stand by and allow it to happen.

Fast forward to 2000, just a month before the presidential election.

We were busy. We were very, very busy. We had a booming business at the time, and barely had time to think, or even to buy groceries. We worked 7 days a week, and some days I barely slept. I paid scant attention to the election until one day, out of the blue, I had a premonition. Seriously. I had the starkest vision: American arriving at a truly fateful crossroads... and taking the dark road. The dark road? As I peered down this 'dark road' I saw that it was as black and unreadable as any time period in history... so dark, in fact, that I recall commenting to my husband (we were eating in a Chinese restaurant, I remember it as though it was yesterday) that this dark road could well end in nuclear war.

Now remember - this was the fall of 2000. We had just begun the new Millennium. All was good and right and happy with the world - after all, we had celebrated a global party New Years Eve, with dancing and fireworks and a 'oneness' across humanity that I doubt has been experienced ever before (and now appears will never come again.) For one brief shining night, we were one species, one people - all of our apparent differences, cast aside. And no, the computers didn't crash.

So, in the fall of 2000, people weren't inclined to believe predictions of doom and gloom. Even my own family thought I was off my nut. I distinctly recall the media - our beloved, corporate network media - telling one and all that 'it didn't really matter who was elected president.' They made it clear that their favorite was George Bush, because he was such a 'funny guy - the kind of guy you'd love to hang out with in a bar. The kind of regular guy you'd swap stories with over a beer.' In other words, real presidential material.

Meanwhile, Gore was blasted as being 'too stuffy, too boring, too intelligent.' Too intelligent? I was dumbstruck. How could any American president ever be intelligent enough? If there is one job on the planet where intelligence might serve you well - along with honesty, integrity, courage and dedication to democracy - I'd pick the presidency. But of course, the media that gave us Survivor and American Idol knows best.

And so the televised presidential circus went on, as they always do, and the people swallowed the nonsense as they would any reality television show. And of course, the candidates - as candidates are wont to do - played right along. Bush seemed to relish the game. Gore seemed somewhat annoyed by the whole thing. The media noticed his desire to talk 'issues, facts, blah blah blah,' and labeled him 'stuffy,' and 'elitist.'

And so it went, and suddenly this vision from nowhere. Bush was the candidate that would lead us into darkest night, and perhaps annihilation. Gore was our alternative. But I saw - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that we would choose the darker road. Or perhaps, as it turned out, we never chose at all. It was chosen for us.

Who could I tell? I told my family, my friends... anyone who would listen. I told my massage therapist. I told a neighbor. I told our employees. They all shook their heads. Most wouldn't believe that Bush could even win. Surely everyone could see through that good ol boy, smirking act, and realize there was no substance behind it. The one conservative friend I told about my vision, couldn't see what I saw and therefore dismissed it, outright. For him, the entire election was about one issue, and one issue only: abortion.

So that was that.

And so the election came. And remained undecided. For months. And then the waiting game, while the country struggled through 'hanging chad,' and stories of voting fraud, malfunctioning electronic voting machines, voters who were turned away from the polls, and hand counts that were being stalled politically in Florida, where - conveniently - Bush's brother Jeb was the Governor and one of his party faithful was Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris. It was already a fait accompli.

Once it was over, there was little reaction from the people. Private outrage, but still no organized attempt to reclaim democracy. A few people, apparently, threw eggs at the 'presidential' motorcade. I do recall one sign that read 'Hail to the Thief.' That was about it.

I turned away from politics in disgust. I already knew where we were going, and I didn't want to watch. And there it is. I didn't want to watch. Should I have fought? Stood up and spoken out? As Rebecca Solnit stated:

I now know the way that everyday life can be so absorbing, survival so demanding, that it seems impossible to do more on top of it or to drop the routine altogether and begin a totally different life.

In our case, our 'everyday life' was our business. It's success or failure (and thus our success or failure) was pretty much in our own hands... or so we thought. 9/11 changed all of that, completely and forever.

Our biggest customer (and the driving force behind our 2001 move into a larger office, our willingness to take on an additional line of work, buy new computers, retrain our staff, etc.) was 5 blocks from ground zero when the planes hit. They watched those planes crash into the World Trade Center through their office windows. They were evacuated from their own building almost daily in the weeks that followed. All work ground to a halt.

By the end of the fiscal year, November 1st, 2001, our open-ended project was canceled.

We moved out of the office and into the front half of our modest home (we moved our living room, dining room and guest bedroom to a storage locker.) We waited three months for our September check, living off of credit cards. My husband returned to his 'old job' and I tried to do everything myself - everything. Our local customers couldn't afford to pay us, and many of them went under.

In hindsight, I wish I hadn't been so damn stubborn, and had thrown in the towel when I saw the writing on the wall. But of course, we now had debts. 9/11 came 3 months after we moved into the new office, bought all new equipment and new software. We qualified for - and took out - a 9/11, disaster loan. But the Small Business Association but a lien on our house. The SBA monthly payments were more than we were making in monthly profits -- because no one, literally no one was paying us. Our credit card debt grew and grew.

The media pundits said 'things will improve!' Things did not improve. Every month was the 'miracle of the loaves and the fishes,' simply to pay the bills. My husband took a second job, and then a third. I developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and Fibromyalgia. But neither of us could stand to fail. Looking back, it isn't any wonder that I wasn't watching -- wasn't paying attention when we invaded Iraq. I was busy. Truly, painfully - desperately busy.

But that is no excuse to me now. No excuse at all. Because I saw it all coming in 2000. I turned away.

Katrina brought home - in stark reality - the cost in lives of that decision. Not that I could have changed anything by myself. But with my refusal to watch, I became complicit.

In the aftermath of Katrina, I saw people drowning in their attics, dogs in trees, and the total disaster that was Brownie's FEMA. I saw Bush, disembarking from Air Force One (3 days late, from his vacation in Texas,) laughing and smiling, with his pet dog Barney tucked safely under his arm. There would be no abandonment, no being left behind to drown for Barney. Barney had the good fortune to be born with a golden water dish. Many hundreds of thousands of other, beloved pets wouldn't be so lucky.

Katrina was my watershed moment. The guilt was overwhelming. In spite of my Fibromyalgia, I volunteered as an animal rescue volunteer and drove down to Louisiana. In the 100+ degree heat and humidity, I barely survived. But when I saw the plight of the animals, I gritted my teeth and dug in. It was impossible to do enough. I never even made a dent.

I started a blog titled 'Mad as Hell' -- and boy, I was mad as hell, every single day. I posted scathing commentaries on the botched response to Katrina, and commentaries on every other corrupt activity that now loomed on my ferocious radar. I was finally performing my 'citizen oversight,' and tracking all of the abuses and corruption in this morally bankrupt administration. As my college background was in Journalism, my only outlet was to research and to write. This is what I had been trained to do, before I had gone into business. It was the only tool I felt I had, and so I used it.

But I came late to the party. So very late.

Eventually, I had to give up that angry blog in favor of one less caustic and more thoughtful. I cannot remain angry all the time - this is not who I am. I didn't do it after our business failed, and I won't do it now.

Do not confuse this rejection of anger with hope. I move forward, every single day, without hope. Every morning I wake up and check the news - desperately hoping Bush hasn't attacked Iran in the night while I was asleep. The darkness isn't over, and we are not yet through it. There is still plenty of time for a nuclear holocaust, and yes... unlike the fall of 2000, just about everyone can see that now.

I no longer judge my German ancestors. I judge myself instead. Suddenly 'being American' carries an enormous weight of negative karma, shared guilt and responsibility. I was wrong to turn away, wrong to give up on my fellow Americans, wrong to give up my personal duty - my personal oversight. I still doubt that anyone would have believed me... but it was my responsibility to try. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for that - and for lost time. Ich bin ein Berliner.


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