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

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I cannot be impartial

Anger or hatred is like a fisherman's hook. It is very important for us to ensure that we are not caught by it.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Anger... or anguish? Or does one morph into the other? Are there times when anger is appropriate, and if so, how to keep it from eating us alive? How to remain impartial when the issues at hand are the survival of our democracy, the sanctity of our Constitution - and the survival of life on our planet? When faced with very real abuse of power and a total lack of regard for the will and the good of the people... how can one remain unmoved?

Some days anguish, some days anger. I am tired of this emotional roller coaster. The biggest drawback to digging deeply into current events, and given my background in history, is that I find myself very afraid for my country. I know Lincoln experienced these feelings, and I'm sure many other American citizens - and congressmen - also experience them today.

How do we deal with this anxiety, fear and yes... outrage? How do we overcome these growing partisan hatreds and divisions between us, and pull together again as one nation? When is anger simply 'flailing around' or 'ranting' and how can it instead be funneled into positive action?

Or is it already too late? I wish I knew.

Lately I've felt an eerie kinship with those who lived through WWII. The gnawing worry, the necessity of living every day without any guarantee of a happily-ever-after ending. History is being created and lived as we speak. We are history, and it is unfolding all around us. But it isn't history yet: it is the now. History in many ways is 'safe,' because the outcome is already ascertained. Real life is much more frightening.

After the 2000 election, I confess that I was so horrified - and felt so betrayed - that I turned my back on government and politics. I felt, and I have heard others echo this sentiment, that perhaps we deserved what we would get. I was angry with Al Gore for not demanding a total recount in Florida, and felt a very real darkness closing in on our nation. I couldn't perceive the nature of that darkness at the time, but I did know that our election process had been gravely compromised; and that this election process is the basis, the vehicle, for our participation in our 'government of the people.' I was disgusted; most especially by our media.

And so I walked away.

Katrina brought me back, and with a vengeance. I was outraged, but more than this... I was wracked with guilt. I saw the residents of New Orleans standing on their rooftops waving American flags, and holding signs that said "save me" and I saw the faces of America: the people who were paying the price, and no, they did NOT deserve what they got.

Since Katrina, I have tried to make up for lost time; first by angry blogging (I deleted my first ongoing blog because I decided it was turning into a partisan rant, and this is not who I am or want to be.) I signed petitions, I wrote weekly, sometimes daily letters to my representatives. I started digging out whatever 'real' investigative journalism I could find online. I vowed to make a difference, somehow, if only in some small way.

But I underestimated how painful, how hard it would be to look deeply into the state of our government today.

The truth is a nightmare. It now appears that every one of our mechanisms for citizen protection and corporate oversight has been compromised: FEMA, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, the FDA, the EPA, the USDA, the Department of Agriculture... all are now run by partisan Bush insiders and corporate cronies.

Americans are still living under a misconception that we are 'safe' and protected by this government, and with collective memories of greater presidents like FDR and Eisenhower, we still believe our government actually cares about our best interests and wellbeing. As each of us awakens to this new reality, one by one, city by city, state by state, I wonder -- what will remain in the wreckage?

Lincoln once said:
"If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem."

Will we ever trust again? Should we ever trust again?

One minute fear. Then anguish. Then anger.

It is impossible to be impartial. Too many have died and are dying -- and too many ancestors have a stake in what we do or allow to happen on our watch.

I often find myself remembering an evening a few years ago, when I happened to arrive at the Antietam battleground just before sunset.

No one else was there; not a park ranger in sight, and so I started walking out across the fields, through the gathering dusk.

A feeling of heaviness, of gloom hung over the place, and it was unnaturally quiet and still. The air was thick, and it was hard to breathe. I actually felt the hair rise on the back of my neck, as though someone was watching me. I have to admit, the place gave me the creeps; and yet I felt no danger there. The sensation of the place is hard to capture in words. Perhaps a great sadness; or perhaps an endless grief.

I wandered over to Burnside's bridge, through a silvery mist that was rising from the banks of Antietam creek. I walked out onto the middle of the old, stone bridge and stood there for a long time in the growing darkness, watching the swirling mist form shapes in the shadows under the hanging branches of the trees. I waited there for some unknown length of time, lost in thought, until a lone park ranger emerged from the present, and told me I would need to leave the park at dark.

As we walked back to the parking lot, he told me stories about his experiences as a battlefield 'local;' a long time resident of an old, Civil War home on the battlefield grounds. He spoke of soft, unintelligible voices murmuring under his window, occasional shouts and horses whinnying. He told me how he, and apparently many locals, would find some excuse each year to leave the area on September 17th, the anniversary of the great battle.

It would seem that he, and many from that area, shared personal experiences and a connection with those who fought and died on that ground. I pondered that idea... that perhaps the Union and Confederate solders who bled and died on those fields were in effect fighting there still; locked in endless, mortal combat in some other twilight dreamscape. War without end.

At the time and in that place, these stories didn't really surprise me. To walk the fields of Antietam at dusk, is to feel the presence of the dead.

I cannot seem to shake that memory. It rises up in my thoughts these days, unbidden but not unheeded.

When I ponder our Constitution and our freedom as Americans, I think about the sacrifices that these 23,000 men made in the course of one September day, on the fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland. They died for an idea: soldiers on each side fought for freedom and for liberty, for themselves and for future generations.

We owe them something... our best, our citizen oversight. I think at the very least, we owe them our vigilance.

My own question is, simply... how to do this without succumbing to grief, or without being torn apart by anger and partisan hostility? How do I walk away from partisan attacks when words of warning are (obviously) unwelcome? These are the questions that I struggle with daily.

I don't want to be an angry person, I have never been a partisan 'hater,' and it is not my nature to be endlessly sad. At times I walk away from the computer and say, NO MORE.

Then I recall the ravages of Katrina, and my shock when days, then weeks went by without any apparent Federal aid or presence other than the heroic efforts of our Coast Guard; not even water bottles. I remember watching Harry Connick Jr. walk into the New Orleans Convention Center and pray by the body of an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I recall watching an anguished and outraged Anderson Cooper, no longer able to sustain his journalistic impartiality, demanding an answer to the lack of Federal response.

How could this have happened in America?

I cannot forget what I have seen, and I cannot shake my sense of shared responsibility. As I type these words, American soldiers and Iraqi citizens are bleeding and dying... and for what? Certainly not to 'make us free.' Not while habeas corpus is suspended and the Patriot Act remains in effect, mocking the sacrifices and unheeded warnings of our nations' founders.

I'm tired of arguing with hate-filled, partisan hardliners; I believe that all of us are victims of a hostile, government takeover. It is in the best interest of those who remove our freedoms that we fight amongst ourselves. What a waste of time... we should be working together for our common good.

We sink or swim together. Unfortunately - even under a flag of truce - we cannot talk to one another if everyone is screaming and no one is listening. We are, once again, a house divided; this time along partisan lines. Apparently the media fear-mongers and religious intolerants were quite effective.

I cannot walk away from my belief that each of us has a responsibility to speak out in a free society, if there is any hope that we are to remain a democracy. And so I stay, I grieve and I write; an unwilling participant in a dark and living history. And I try each day to find a little solace, a little hope and patience, and a little common ground with my neighbors as I await some sign of light at the end of the tunnel.

I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

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