On Saturday I mentioned that I am reading Naomi Wolf's Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. It is an interesting and frustrating experience. As I read through the middle of the book, I find myself in agreement with Wolf in many of her assertions, and with her core values, but at odds with her big picture. She does not clearly connect the increase in the size and power of the federal government with the decrease in the engagement of ordinary citizens with our government, and its increasing encroachment upon our ability to exercise the rights guaranteed us in the Bill of Rights. Thus she advocates direct democracy, whereas I want a return to federalism, in order to decrease the power of the federal government over our lives. I believe that direct democracy will only increase the erosion of our individual rights, for what is democracy except mob rule by the ballot box? I want to restore the Republic safeguarded to us by our founders; I do not believe that any majority can vote away the rights of individuals.
Nevertheless, one of the more exciting aspects of the middle of the book is that Wolf outlines core values and illustrates them with examples. I had cause to ponder one of them this morning, when I opened The Albuquerque Journal and read the Up-Front Headline:
"Health Care Debate Rx: Stop Yelling" (by Leslie Linthicum).
I have problems with this idea of opinion on the front page, but I am a stick-in-the-mud.
More to the point, Leslie is simply wrong about the yelling, as are all of those who are trying to shut down the real anger that citizens are feeling at their non-representing representatives. We have been shut out of the discussion for a long time, as those inside the beltway make decisions about what to do with OUR MONEY without reference to those who earned it and pay it out in taxes. This year, the average taxpayer worked until August 13 to pay the government. That means that the taxpayer works involuntarily for the government for more than half the year. There is going to come a point where it won't be worth it to work at all, and then what will the leeches in Washington do?
It is about the "yelling", though, that Linthicum is dead wrong. Citizens should be yelling, protesting and doing whatever it takes to get our supposed public servants to pay attention. In doing so, we are in the grand tradition that goes back to those first American Revolutionaries, and further, to England. Has Linthicum never watched a video of a meeting of the House of Commons? (And this one is rather tame. The parliamentarian hardly had to raise his voice to get order, for a little while).
In her book, Naomi Wolf points this out in her discussion of Core Value 2: We have a Duty to Rebel Continually Against Injustice and Oppression: Personal Risk in Defense of Liberty. Here she outlines the rude and disorderly protests of the colonists on their way to declaring independence, and she points out that the tradition continued after the revolution as well. About the Stamp Act Crisis and the Boston Tea Party she says:
"During the 1760's the colonists had engaged in dozens of mass protests and daring, even provocative crowd actions as part of the Stamp Act Crisis . . . crowds hung stamp distributors in effigy; staged mock funerals of stamp distributors; leveled to the ground the buildings that housed the stamps . . . and wreaked havoc in this way with the plans of the crown." (p. 106)
. . . But in fact it was a culmination of dozens of outbursts, protests, and confrontational street theater that colonial people from all walks of life had learned to use as a powerful tool for speaking up against the oppression of the crown." (p.107)
Wolf then goes on to describe the stormy protests and debates over Jay's treaty with Britain in 1790, during which the people burned so many effigies of Secretary Jay, that he remarked that he could walk from one end of the colonies to another by their light alone. Eventually, the treaty was passed, but because of the protests, the debate was had in the full light of day, and the people's insistence that their voice be heard obviated any attempt at secret deals and kitchen cabinets.
Wolf's conclusions about rough, demanding and difficult protest are worth reading:
"These are the American people when they are in alignment with the ideal: while violence is never acceptable, Americans should and must be free to be angry, disruptive, outraged, loud, confrontational, and obnoxious in expressing their views--especially if their views are being trammeled or overridden in secret. [Like passing the stimulus in the middle of the night?]. They must be free to shout loud enough for their representatives to hear--and disruptive enough so that the president himself may fear public perception if the crisis they are provoking is not dealth with . . . If the people can't precipitate a crisis through protest, what voice do they actually have when their leaders make secret treaties, or wholly override their will, or act in ways entirely without consulting them? (p. 109; emphasis mine).
We've been good little do-be's for far too long.
It is past time to take back the First Amendment loudly, passionately, obstinately. We must reclaim the grand Patriot tradition.