A growing number of Americans are beginning to identify with the
pro-democracy activists whose courage opened much of the world to
freedom in the final decades of the 20th Century.
We remember and honor the poet revolutionary Vaclav Havel of
Czechoslovakia, where Charter 77 rendered the flowers and songs of a
velvet revolution more powerful than the guns of oppression. We
remember the shipyard hero, Lech Walesa, of Poland. We remember those
who stood non-violently in Russia, in Yugoslavia, in Tiananmen Square,
in East and West Germany. It was their fearless living that ended the
Cold War, not Reagan’s saber rattling.
When people stand united with certain courage against oppression, they
get their way. That is an axiom in the geometry of world history.
To say we are oppressed in America sounds remarkably like the whining
of spoiled children. We live such privileged lives compared to many in
the world, it is true. We have our cars and our homes or apartments‚
most of us, and our television shows and our clean cities and
glittering stores‚ cornucopias--and theaters and a thousand kinds of
systems and conveniences and communication devices and all the rest
that seem to work and serve us with well-maintained reliability. Living
in the midst of such luxury, it is hard to imagine that one might not
be free‚ that freedom might be an illusion, a fraud.
Was the hooped-skirted, ante-bellum Southern Belle, living her life in
the plantation mansion amid her luxuries, a free human being--or was
she as constrained from independent action as the slaves who served her
luxury? Our homes are now filled with the cheap products of slave
societies, and our streets are safe because those who dare move against
the system are locked away by the millions, so that their forced labor
can serve us, too. But we are free and happy, we think. We are
Americans. We need no Velvet Revolution, for our lives are sufficient;
they are velvet couches, made in China, affordable to us because the
best part of the price is paid by others, by the young worker in China,
by the unemployed fellow in our own town, and by his children who pay
in a thousand ways.
So, we have it made. Yes, it is a problem that we Americans use a third
of the world's resources, and that global pollution and the balance of
our trade are all completely unsustainable, and that we can only get
the cheap resources we desire by destroying democracies around the
world and installing dictators to whom we can dictate; and all this
sowing of bitterness is a harvest of terrorism now and to come, but we
can at least live for today in our freedom and our happiness. We,
empire's debutantes, need not look out our plantation house window to
the slave quarters in the distance, when the same window will give us
our beautiful reflection. But the small, everyday injustices of a
population must flow somewhere; indeed, they gather into great rivers
that flow through capitols and pentagons, where the selfish energies
combine and become the bombs and machine-gun roar and rattle of our
bloody agents in the world. Our vote every four years is a weak
ceremony of little importance compared to how we live our personal
lives, which empowers either good or evil in the world.
But as for our freedom, what do we have left of it? No man or woman is
free whose life is built upon the suffering of others. Slavery enslaves
the master more than the slave, for the master is enslaved in mind as
well as body. And so we take off our shoes at the airport and are too
dumbed-down to think why, and we send our children to factory schools
that are the abattoirs of their tender imaginations and grand
potentials, and we are too hypnotized to think much of it. We bow our
heads to our bosses, without the clear minds to mourn for our human
dignity, for we dare not miss a paycheck or else the credit card and
mortgage bales on our backs will come crushing down on us, and that is
all that matters, we have been programmed to believe‚ not think.
Our lives have been stolen; we have no place to go, no meaningful
choices--only meaningless, consumer choices. Decide to live the life of
a poet, or a farmer, or a vagabond, or a philosopher, and count the
cost of that. Can you afford it--can you afford freedom? Are you free
to make big changes in your life, or do you have too many obligations
to others? Financial entanglements have come to define human
relationships, so that the elite may prosper.
Was it not ever so? Did not the frontier farmers and the townspeople
feel the constraints of their position, their obligations to family,
church, community? They did so. I remember this life. It was imperfect,
but it was different than today: people chose their oppressions and
built lives. They were pawns in their own schemes and social
hierarchies, and the fodder for the wars of the elites, but there was a
sense of freedom that is missing now. Today's oppressions have
organized in some inhuman way that serves against our interests and
against the interests of society itself more permanently and
aggressively. It is evidenced in so many new ways, from unnecessary
wars built upon great lies, to election frauds and the dismantling of
social programs by the device of other great lies, and the creation of
permanent war so that power over us may be extended forever in ways
small and grave: our shoes are to come off at the airport, our children
are to be shot and blown up, and our debt is to be the great burden
that keeps the bales upon our backs and all of us in our places. There
is, in other words, a permanently vicious aspect to life today that was
only an occasional visitor to us before‚ when the wars came, when the
union contract expired. The boot of greedy oppression is now always at
our necks, it seems. And, like medical companies who own Congress or
oil companies who own White Houses, it seem to have become the nature
of the beast‚ widely understood and generally, if grudgingly, accepted.
But the pursuit of happiness? There it is, a phrase central to the
world's idea of America. If some people in this country could erase
those words from our Declaration, they would do so--and replace them
with something more religious or otherwise authoritarian and demanding
of obedience instead of the nurturing of our human potential. But the
words remain there on that parchment, and indelibly upon our hearts and
imaginations. That is why there is a velvet revolution brewing, and it
is not the whining of spoiled children, but the song of freedom of
brave men and women who are prepared to let the bales upon their backs
fall and mix with the old tea in the harbor.
And this phrase, the pursuit of happiness, the central red magma of our
collective political souls, the energy source of all our revolutions
including this one, calls not for our selfish enjoyment of other
people's labors, but for the freedom to live meaningful lives in a land
of justice‚ where our democracy is our tool to better the earth as a
happy human outpost in the cold universe; a warm reprieve from the
heartless and fatal logic of time and space, and a reflection here and
now of God's love, or, absent that according to your beliefs, our best
make-do substitute. For brotherhood is enough, and democracy is our
belief in brotherhood and our commitment to it.
I have long admired the Europeans for the fact that they discuss
politics constantly. The sidewalk café conversation is superior for the
maintenance of democracy, when compared to our sitting in front of
endlessly dumbed-down news broadcasts and newspaper accounts. Even
during this recent disclosure of election fraud in Ohio, the news
channels all but ignored it, and the main story in the New York Times,
even as Senators stood against a sham election, was a long report on
the disruption made to Congress's mindless train schedule.
The sharing of email and our occasional standing together in protests
is the best we Americans can do to create the community of democracy
and raise the barricades of its defense. Or is it?
We tend to fall into the politics of victimization and anger. We are
defensive, when in fact our only real success must come from another
way: from the promotion and spreading of a lifestyle that we model with
lives of joy and justice and sustainable common sense, and from a
mending of the split in American culture that now colors our national
map. For we are not reds and blues; we share beliefs in common:
freedom, justice, unity, brotherhood. It is only in our information
that we differ, and those of us with better information have an
obligation to share and, by doing so, widen the unification of the
American people, whose interests are much the same.
This we can do if we understand that truth is conveyed and minds are
convinced not by our words but by our actions--to live free, to find
and share joy, to earn our livings not at the expense of others or of
the earth. Who will not follow, one by one at first, young people
first, mothers and then fathers, pastors and then flocks?
The soulful way forward we seek for our country and the world is to be
found in mending the house divided. Not by the whisperings of fear, the
shouts of anger or the whining of victimization, but by joy itself, and
creativity, and a confident chuckle at the folly of the old, dead-end
ways of life.
War breeds consumer materialism. The Civil War brought the Gilded Age;
the First World War brought the Roaring Twenties; The Second World War
brought on the material binge we now maintain with ad-hoc wars as
necessary. Wars destroy all other values, leaving only materialism. Can
the process work backward? Can we bring peace by living in more
sensible and beautiful ways? Yes, for the future is always being forged
in the present. Lives of joy, if we create them, will bear joyous fruit.
Serving each other is the joy of life. It does us no good to rise up
every four years and comb through housing projects and poor
neighborhoods, begging for votes, when we were needed there all
along--needed to bring joy and education to the children, resources to
parents, tools for self-representation and community progress. In the
current push in the Democratic Party for a new national chairman, the
debate centers on how to better reach more people with our political
message, when our elections are but report cards for how we have served
our communities all along. The work of a successful party or movement
depends on how well it organizes people every day for the improvement
of free and joyful living, for the power to shape their futures and
care for their children, for the power to extend their higher values
into the world and thus serve their dreams of brotherhood, justice and
the peace that comes naturally from brotherhood and justice. And this
peace needs no armies nor preemptive slaughters; no torture chambers
nor even the taking off of our shoes at airports‚ as if our old globe
were still large enough for us to be safe in an unjust world if only we
will take off our shoes!
The poor of this country are so deprived of options that they now flock
to churches, where the government money now comes, so that people can
be turned away from the idea that government--democracy--is our common
tool for serving each other's needs.
If a party or a movement is to be successful, it must become that place
where people go for personal help, like the union hall or the old
Grange hall‚ or the thing we must see next, the party office in every
neighborhood that needs help, filled with volunteers who have learned
that the joy of life comes only through service.
My advice to the activist is to look at the work of groups like City
Repair of Portland, and of ACORN, and other groups that work to make
everyday life more joyful for our people. Get involved with them. There
are simply not enough of us to effect dramatic political change as
things stand today, so we must labor happily in these vineyards until
we are enough.
And we must open the eyes and minds of our neighbors. Just as the
religious groups go door-to-door with their pamphlets, so must we, with
pamphlets that fill in the gaps of information about our government,
our environment, and our situation in America and around the world.
These activities--working with people who need help and spreading the
truth--must be joined, and our political work will come easier.
Let us string lights in the trees and bring out tables of food. Let us
buy the things we need from the workers here who need the work. Let us
invite the musicians and the artists and the academics to do their
part. Let us do, in short, what we would do if the present order fell
to feathers with all its mortgages and credit cards. It will do just
that if we so elect, and this is the election that matters. The things
we dislike in the present order are sustained only by our fearful
Look at me: I am still alive, and I am looking at you, and you are
alive. This is our world as much as anyone else's. We who are old
enough or wise enough to see the edges of life can understand that we
have a choice between fear and joy, and between victimization and
service. All elections and other indications to the contrary, happy
days are here again when we but say they are. We do not turn our hearts
away from injustice or suffering, indeed we mend them as best we can
with our joyful engagement and our courageous non-cooperation with the
forces of fear and death. And no one can take away our joy, for even
our suffering for justice and brotherhood is joyful.
This is our Velvet Revolution, American style. We resist what we must
and what we can, but our victory is not in defense, but in a cultural
offensive made irresistible by the power of love and courage, pulling
our people together, and our own lives together, over time.
We have tried this before in America. Things got in our way: drugs,
wars, fears. We became parents. We became distracted. It is now time to
get it right.
Doris "Granny D" Haddock is celebrating her 95th birthday (Jan. 24) with a quick speaking tour in Florida over the next few days and then speaking at the January 20th Inauguration Day Protests in Washington, D.C.