Monday, August 08, 2005

Patricia Williams and Susan Straight (The Nation)

In the latest issue of The Nation (arrived in today's mail), Patricia J. Williams has "Telly-Tommy." Like the majority of her Diary of a Mad Law Professor columns, this one isn't available online (unless you subscribe to The Nation). The issue is the August 15/22nd issue (a double issue) so you can seek it out at bookstores and libraries.

The starting point of Williams' columns is Tommy Thompson (Sec. of Health & Human Services) offer to have "a radio tracking chip . . . implanted into his arm." Over the course of her column, Williams addresses all that is wrong with. (And does it quite well. I'm a huge fan of Williams' writing.) I'm going to quote one paragraph from the column:

As billions of dollars shift from education and infrastructure towards defense in our "homeland," as security forces both here and abroad become less and less broadly educated in anything other than martial science, it is instereting to ponder what money is going where in the now-no-longer "war on terror" (the Bush Administration renamed it "a global struggle against violent extermism," in case you're beind the times*). The Chinese government recently contracted with a company in Boston for a healthy shipment of bomb-detecting machines with which to protect its rail system. Like the little match girl, we might wonder if that kind of machine couldn't serve us well too.

[*Since Williams wrote her column, Bully Boy's backed off that stance and we're now back to using the phrase "war on terror." For now, anyway.]

Again, it's a great column and I always find Patricia J. Williams worth reading. But I'm going to do a free association entry here (call me Thomas Friedman!).

Williams is talking about the make up (ethnic and racial) of NYC and I've also read Susan Straight's "Even" (also available online only to subscribers -- so seek out the print edition). Straight's addressing the racial and ethnic tensions in her area of California (which go beyond that area, as she'd be the first to note, but she's focusing on that area). She's speaking of how the erosion/destruction of the manufacturing base has hurt areas and how we're all at each other's throats. I want to note a paragraph from that:

Students interviewed on TV kept mentioning the overcrowding at their schools, how hard it was to get along when they were all bumping into each other. Overcrowded schools, jails, freeways -- brown and browner and white people working too hard, driving too far, not able to afford housing with breathing space, or not able to work at all in the new high-tech or service economy, sending children to school where they can't find a seat or a book.

Straight notes the overcrowding and lack of space (which is why we should be fighting to preserve our public commons, not privatize them) throughout this article. And I believe she makes the point that with everyone packed on top of everyone else (in a really bad economy), tensions rise even higher.

So what's my point?

Williams is making the point that callers to NYC radio (white) want their fellow citizens spied on or searched. (Any group but they're own.) And I'm just wondering what other factors contribute to that. I think Straight's making solid points (re: economics, overcrowding, et al).

But I kept coming back to Williams use of quotation marks around "homeland."

And started thinking about the terror people have spoken to me of feeling in the months after September 11th when they'd hear a plane pass over. What that reminded me of was the fear in the fifties. The bomb shelters. The duck and cover drills.

Williams has written about the nonsense of "homeland" security's duct tape and other similar "ideas." If I'm stealing from her in my free association, it's untentional.

But the scare tactics, from within our government, that have made us fearful have probably impacted and increased tensions between all groups. They didn't create it, obviously, but they've benefitted from it.

And "homeland" security . . . Didn't we already have someone looking over this country's security? (Or an agency that was supposed to?) Wouldn't that have been Condi Rice's job? And the National Security Council?

But when there's no accountability (and there's none in this administration), you create a new agency (bigger government -- despite Bully Boy's claims of being against it) and say we need it because of what happened.

As has long been noted by others, the color-code system is manipulated to cause a reaction of panic among us. But hasn't the entire creation of this new organization been a distraction?

Rice can get off with dismissing a PDB as unimportant ("Bin Laden Determined to Strike . . .") because we're sold the idea that if only we'd had this new organization, we could have prevented the attacks of 9/11. (That and the "wall." That didn't exist. FISA warrents are rarely not granted.)

The failures aren't being addressed with still. There's an article in tomorrow's New York Times by Douglas Jehl ("Four in 9/11 Plot Are Called Tied to Qaeda in '00") that posits that four of the hijackers were under suspicion in 2000 (when they were in the United States) and nothing was done. The reasoning given (Ken e-mailed the article, by the way) is that miliatry intell was limited in what they could do in this country. And the FBI didn't act.

We keep creating these new powers, these new rules, these new organizations and chains of command because the simple fact is that there is no accountability.

"Homeland" security, used by Williams, made me think how crafty (or lucky) whomever thought up that idea/concept/distraction was. It hyped and distracted and helped issue the "new" attitude of don't trust your neighbors which echoes the fifites.

The use of "the other" has been quite effective in silencing reactions to the slaughter of Iraqis. But it's also been applied domestically. (Most infamously in Bully Boy's you're-either-with-us-or-against-us.) After the fifties, when the country began waking up, there was some surprise that such things could happen (or the internments during WWII) and the question was often, "How?" I think we've seen "how."

In the face of tragedy, we were encouraged to be scared, frightened and we lost the better nature of our character. Pru feels that a lot of statements are encouraging the same reaction in her own country (England). (She also feels that of coverage outside England, the New York Times is one of the worst offenders at raking up the fear factor.) She hopes that in her country, the rational nature will triumph.

But the point here is we were encouraged to be frightened. And when that happens, when we respond in fear and trash rationality (and those counseling us to be rational -- such as Susan Sontag), we're vulnerable to the worst in human nature. And that's how the slow slide away from all we're supposed to believe in and practice happens.

Cindy Sheehan's demonstrating bravery and rejecting the idea that she has no right to question or to expect answers. She deserves applause for that. She deserves recongition. When I shared the story of a friend who felt she couldn't speak up at all (after 9/11 and still to this day) and my response that we need to because, despite attacks aimed at us, that's how you get the ball rolling (and the discussion going) a number of e-mails began to trickle in. Some members were trying that in their own circles for the first time. And the e-mails would usually note the attacks and that following the attacks, maybe one person would later say, 'Okay, I get your point."

That's what democracy is, it's a peer to peer sharing. And that's why The Third Estate Sunday Review editorial closed with this:

Maybe the Bully Boy will meet with her, maybe he won't. But she's demanding answers (something the D.C. press corps should have done long ago -- in fact, they should have done it before the invasion began). Make sure you're aware of her bravery and make sure your friends are. Her refusal to back down deserves our attention and our applause and it will inspire other actions.

We can all always do more. But at the bare minimum, we need to be discussing what Sheehan's doing with the people around us. Awareness leads to action. A number of members have written in at various times (often when they find a voice that speaks to them) to note that they thought they were the only ones who felt "that way" about an issue.

When we're overcrowed and fearful, it's easy to disconnect from one another (a point I believe Straight makes in her article) and it's easy to demonize one another. Cindy Sheehan's doing something brave right now and there are people who will respond to her bravey. So do your part to get the word out on what she's doing, on the stand she's taking. Everyone who's shown bravery in some way (big or small) has chipped away at the fear based distortions we've been living under. They deserve credit. But rarely have they gotten the larger attention they needed. BuzzFlash and Matthew Rothschild (among others) do a great job of noting people willing to stand up and be counted. But we need to move beyond our own circles. Sheehan's actions will have more impact if we make a point to discuss her with people we know. (And Tori e-mailed that Cindy Sheehan told Laura Flanders tonight, on The Majority Report, that People Magazine was interviewing her.)

That's one way change happens. When, instead of running from people willing to take a stand, we note them and note them repeatedly. A lot of brave activism in the last few years have been like the old question of a tree falling when no one's around. Does it make an impact?

We make an impact when others are aware. Sheehan's putting herself out there and we need to be sure that as many people as possible know about that. (Mike Malloy just pointed out that The Lone Star Iconclast is doing regular updates on Sheehan's brave stand.)

In March of 2004, a friend (far wiser than I am) said, using the Vietnam comparison, that we were in the mid-sixties and the question was where would be come the election? (She felt we hit 1968 during the GOP convention and never made it past that year before the election.) We are hopefully emerging from a period where questions couldn't be asked and a right wing attack could stick. But that only happens if we're all willing to do our part. And what I'm asking tonight is similar to what Maria, Francisco and Miguel ask when they do an entry on Democracy Now! and note that the headlines are now offered in Spanish (text and audio) which is: get the word out.

The only way we overcome the fear-based "reality" the Bully Boy's created is with knowledge.
Williams is noting how silly the whole chip idea is (and how harmful), Straight's noting how we can turn on one another. Both are noting the way fear can grip us. Cindy Sheehan's providing an example of bravery and it is inspiring. Some on the right might be inspired, some who are otherwise apethetic might be inspired. I'm more concerned with the ones who aren't following this. (The right's attacking Sheehan, no surprise.) Today, a woman told me how she'd just found out Peter Jennings had died and she was upset because "I really trusted him." I said I was sure World News Tonight would do something on him and she replied that she never watched the news ("I need laughter"). Those are the people who could miss out on what Sheehan's doing. The ones who don't follow news (from independent or mainstream sources).

Those are the ones I'd hope members would be reaching out to. If they're just wanting to talk about something on TV (entertainment, not news), make a trade off. Listen to their comments about whatever show (or other topic) and then explain that you want to share what Sheehan's doing because you think it's really important. Inform the people who otherwise wouldn't know.
Back up Sheehan's bravery by getting the word out. (At minimum.)

The e-mail address for this site is (And Tori notes that Laura Flanders is supposed to be filling in on The Majority Report tomorrow night as well -- Janeane's filming the West Wing and Sam's child is due. I'll try to remember to do a heads up tomorrow to that. If, like me, you missed it tonight, remember that Air America Place has archives. You can listen tonight or tomorrow -- I'm listening tomorrow, I'm too tired tonight -- or later in the week but Tori notes that Cindy Sheehan's interview is a must hear. So was the interview Laura Flanders conducted with her Sunday, my opinion, and you can hear that, courtesy of Air America Place, by clicking here.)