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The Tribe VS. George W. Bush
Published on Tuesday, November 2, 2004 by
The Tribe VS. George W. Bush
by Linda D. O'Brien

It was the laughter of the woman in the dark of the "Control Room" theater--she in the front row, us in the last--that made me think of tribes again. Donald Rumsfeld was on the screen, his damp lips curled mockingly around the word "lies" as he talked of news reported by Al-Jazeera but not by the U.S. media. If you tell lies often enough, he was saying, you get found out. The woman laughed, and I knew why, and who she was. She was one of the tribe. I went home and dug up my film studies essays for the sentence I remembered--by Geoffrey Hill, in his analysis of films as modern myths: "an initiation pit . . . where tribal strangers of like mind meet to explore the inner reaches of the soul."

Tribal strangers. I felt it again, as I had at the first march I attended against the Iraq war two years ago. Riding up the escalator from the D.C. subway, I'd heard a strange sound from the platform above, a rippling, musical, birdlike call from a young woman, and to my amazement found myself responding with an identical sound, and laughing. It's called a ululation, a friend told me later. It's a tribal call.

I'd been drawn to that march while the country still held its breath under a veil of suffocating silence, led by email exchanges with people I'd never met. The first one, flying through the dark from a stranger at the other end of the country, had said: "I feel so alone. I am frightened--does anybody else know what I know?"

Out of that silence, defiant voices were raised. The voice at the other end of that email, Paul Krugman, William Pitt, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Granny D., Dennis Kucinich, Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly; in marches--men on crutches, old women in wheelchairs, parents with children, artists, drummers, dancers; on the indispensable websites--BuzzFlash, Common Dreams, TruthOut, and hundreds more.

What is it that connects us? Fears for our individual safety and happiness, surely, but also for Iraqis and detainees and the children and our soldiers and our earth and our collective future; for those being maimed and killed; because if it is done to one it is done to me. This is the connection of the tribe, this knowledge at that still point of word and silence that Joseph Campbell said is in each of us. Limited by enforced silence, lies, propaganda, our skins, by distance, language, time, but joining at the same point everywhere at once.

There is cause for despair and terror, and not only because of terrorists. At Abu Graib, doctors ignore the evidence of torture and a psychiatrist helps devise it. If doctors and intelligence officers and presidents and Congress can take us to the point of harming imprisoned patients, of looking away from torture, if they can take us to the eleventh hour, all that may save us is this most ancient connection.

That is why I am convinced this something ancient is not only in us, it is moving through us, rising from the collective conscious and unconscious, from the earth, from our ancestors, from the creative force itself.

Together with millions in other countries, we are driving change in the direction of the world. We brought Kerry here, by uniting like T-cells fighting a virus in the body. Not all the machinations of the political machine could have done it otherwise. What could be done by a similar uniting with others beyond our borders--what must be done? All of this senseless horrific tragic destruction of lives for the sake of ideology and power and money, the destruction of the planet, the choice against the connection at that still point: this is the real battle, and it goes beyond the election. That is why the recognition in the tribal call, in the laughter in the midst of darkness, is so important.

And here also, on election day and beyond. We know the possibilities. There is a reasonable likelihood that we will find ourselves, for a short or a long period of time, in silence and darkness again. I've often thought, in the last three years, of the progression of power in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The way the melody is first heard as a tentative, lonely piping. The way it is joined by other individual instruments, male and female, sympathetic or aggressive, horns and strings. The way it marches forward, gaining strength and numbers and depth and joy, continually building, until finally, when it is nearly at crescendo, there is abruptly a breathlessly long moment of utter silence, and it seems that all is over.

You know what happens next. Don't forget. Remember the melody through the silence, should it come. And if it doesn't come, remember it even more. Remember when everything else was silence except for our voices. Calling out, laughing, in the dark.

Linda O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Takoma Park, Maryland and welcome comments at


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