Our national anthem describes America as the "land of the free and the home of the brave." A popular country song that resurfaces every time we put bombers in the air over some Third World country includes the phrase, "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free, and I won't forget the men who died and gave that right to me."
Almost two weeks ago, I introduced legislation to override the recently signed executive order by President Bush that would deny our servicemen their overtime pay after 400 days of deployment within two years. The administration pushed through a $15 billion airline industry bailout, but refuses to pay our national guardians overtime. Despite the importance of this issue, it has received little or no coverage in the press.
Yet on Oct. 12, when I wrote a letter to a Saudi prince asking for help for America's poor, and after the letter was made public by my staff, I received 32 calls from the media in just four hours.
Why the difference?
In the first letter I was merely fighting for powerless Americans who are putting their lives on the line to protect our nation and our freedoms. In the second letter, I had the temerity to communicate publicly with an American ally who has expressed the opinion that the United States should reevaluate its policy toward the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
In my three-page letter to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a longtime friend of America, I expressed my disappointment with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's refusal of a $10 million donation that would have helped the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedies. I asked the prince to direct the $10 million to American charities outside the mayor's control, and I specifically suggested that he direct his charity toward poor blacks who sleep on the street in the shadows of our nation's Capitol.
As a result of my letter, I have been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
I have been attacked as an anti-Semite.
All this despite my support of the War Powers Resolution and my long-standing voting record in support of Israel.
I have been attacked for speaking.
I am heartened by those who have defended my right to speak. A large group of ministers and civic activists in my district held a news conference in support of my right to speak my mind.
Two Jewish organizations that support my right to speak are Not in My Name and Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel.
Not in My Name expressed its disappointment at "the harsh rebuke by the Anti-Defamation League. We support Rep. McKinney and hope she continues to show courage in bringing such topics before the American people." Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel wrote, "The time has arrived to examine seriously the United States' role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
When I wrote to the prince, I quoted my House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who recently stated on National Public Radio that "there's no question . . . the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important issue in dispute and has generated a lot of the animosity toward us because of our unwavering support for Israel, which will remain in place."
I quoted former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, on CNN, stated that America must "deal with some of the issues that animate the hostility" against us, such as "the treatment of the population of Iraq" and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Why such a negative reaction to my letter?
I believe that when it comes to major foreign policy issues, many prefer to have black people seen and not heard.
There is never an inconvenient time to fight for justice. If I can take a battering and still get $10 million directed toward poor people then I will wear these criticisms as a badge of honor.
Mayor Giuliani has done a superb job, but he was wrong to deny needy Americans a helping hand from a caring friend.
By saying this, I embrace my freedoms to think independently and to speak freely. Another, less-quoted, lyric from the same song: "I thank my lucky stars to be living here today, 'cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away."
The writer is a Democratic representative from Georgia.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company