Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
Hamlet, III, ii
"We Have the Power to Say "No!" Now" trumpets the headline of a column by Linda
O’Brien posted on www.commondreams.org. She poses to
the question: "Why are we letting Bush prepare to do the unthinkable and unnecessary
in Iraq?" and argues convincingly that it is a Bad Idea.
But her answer skips over her own question: "Why are we letting Bush do this?"
Her question isn’t why it’s a Bad Idea to attack Iraq. Almost everyone thinks
it is. World newspapers are awash in reasons why it’s not a good idea. Most Americans,
myself included, can think of a dozen reasons why it’s a Bad Idea.
People I talk to, without exception, feel horrified and helpless about this
Bad Idea -- as we feel horrified and helpless about the proliferation of war,
bombing, killing and maiming, and the spending of 56% of our nation’s budget for
military purposes. We feel horrified and helpless that preventing abortion should
have higher priority in Washington than saving the lives of living women and children,
and that a "War on Terrorism" should justify a program to encourage us to rat
on one another. We feel horrified and helpless as we watch Congress reward financial
institutions with bankruptcy laws punishing little people who lose jobs or have
medical catastrophes, and pass huge farm subsidies that will destroy small farmers
here and abroad but can’t help seniors with drug costs.
The horror is understandable. The helplessness is harder to explain. We believe
in our hearts that our nation is governed by the will of the majority and that
We-the-people should have the power to say "No!" to anything we believe is not
in the best interests of our nation.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet identifies a problem we need to face: one reason we feel
helpless is that the issues are very complex and we are uncertain what should
be done. Our consciences tell us that we need to know more to make wise decisions.
But as we learn more, we doubt more. We keep asking Why?, postponing decisions
about what we should do.
In the meantime, George W. Bush -- whose mind is certainly not "sicklied o’er
with thought" -- has proposed to eradicate a Bad Idea (Terrorism) by eradicating
one Bad Guy and everyone in his vicinity.
This is an enterprise of "great pitch and moment" -- a Bad Idea that threatens
to explode into an Apocalypse of war and devastation. We cannot let our native
resolution -- our American "can-do" spirit -- be turned aside by our uncertainties
Which brings us to the real question: HOW do we say "NO!" to Bush’s Bad Idea?
What power do we ordinary citizens have over a President chosen for us by the
Supreme Court? What clout have we with a Congress purchased by oil corporations,
corrupt accounting firms, weapons manufacturers and drugs companies? What quality
of news and information do we get from media controlled by wealth and directed
by profit? What’s the point in voting for Republicans who won’t stand up to the
wealthy, righteous and abortion-obsessed right-wing of their party? Why support
Greens who can’t be anything but spoilers in a money-driven system? Why champion
Democrats who aren’t willing to oppose the arrogance of wealth and reverse the
abuses and usurpations of the last 18 months -- tax cuts for the rich, deregulation
to increase corporate profits, slashing civil liberties, reneging on international
treaties, raping the environment, and using the most violent kind of terrorism
against the poor of the world?
Conscience demands that we take action against Bush’s Bad Idea. But how to
do it? What tools do we have to exert leverage against the money monoculture that
has overtaken the administration of our government?
As a former U.S. Senate staffer I am hardly naive about how "the system" works.
I have no illusions that signing petitions, telephoning, writing or e-mailing
the President or Congress are particularly effective. Neither quantity nor quality
of public opinion has as much influence on elected officials’ actions as the slick
presentations of lobbyists representing large campaign donors.
And the media, which should be our most powerful tool against Bad Ideas, is
widely controlled by corporations whose bottom lines are money.
Yet we cannot give up or give in to apathy, disillusion or cynicism, nor let
indecision rob us of the courage to act. When confronted with really Bad
Ideas like slavery or genocide, Americans have always shown the conscience and
the courage to resist them .
How do we say "No!"? For this crisis we may only have the traditional tools:
protests, petitions, phone-calls, e-mails, and letters -- to elected officials,
newspapers, TV and radio stations. In the longer term we’re going to have to use
our Yankee Ingenuity to devise new tools that empower us to participate in public
We are not helpless, but we are challenged. Bush’s Bad Idea is an opportunity
to prove once again that conscience does not make us cowards, but gives us courage
to take control of our nation’s destiny.
Caroline Arnold (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is retired from the staff of former Senator John Glenn, and presently chairs the
Kent Environmental Council in Kent, Ohio.