Talking About My Generation

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When did we forget these words? When did we become so cautious, so fearful? When did we decide the good fight was no longer worth fighting?

When did we forget the words of Adlai Stevenson, “Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than freedom to stagnate, to live without dreams, to have no greater aim than a second car and another television set.”?

Did it happen while we were talking on our cell phones as we drove our SUV’s to the nearest Gap or Home Depot in order to buy more things we don’t need?

When did we allow these words of John F. Kennedy to be corrupted?

“I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves. For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society.”

Was it while we waited, in our apathy and our greed, for the money of the neo-conservatives to trickle down to us?

In Mr. Robbins’ speech, he referred to a famous middle-age rock star who called to thank him for speaking out against this war, adding that he could not do so himself for fear of repercussions from Clear Channel, which plays his music and books his concerts.

I understand. I empathize. I also took the path of least resistance for months after the events of September 11th. I am a widow whose late husband neglected to sell life insurance to himself. I have a son in college. I have another son who is in the Navy Reserves. I’m a social worker at Earned Income Credit level who stands to lose her job as a result of her activism. Should that happen, in this country’s current economic and political climate, I no doubt would have great difficulty in finding another. In that event, my house and my car would be lost.

But when this President committed our fine young people in the armed services to fighting this war, in contempt of the U.S. Constitution and in criminal defiance of the UN Charter, while an appalling majority of our elected representatives cravenly stood by and did nothing, I no longer could remain silent.

If our troops, who swore to defend this country, not to engage in pre-emptive, unilateral strikes against a country that has done nothing to harm us since the end of the last Gulf War, are risking their very lives because they have no choice but to obey orders, how could I possibly defend my failure to exercise my Constitutional right to protest, simply because I might risk my mere livelihood?

I’m a Roman Catholic but the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” that had been haunting my conscience for months could no longer be denied for reasons of expediency.

Thus I began writing, daily, to my Representative and Senators. I began writing letters to the editors of local papers and they were published. I began submitting letters to web sites and they were posted. I became a plaintiff in the anti-war lawsuit filed against President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. I appeared on MSNBC Live. I began to be a guest on numerous talk radio shows.

After I got over myself, I began to wonder why I was receiving so much attention so quickly. I was stunned to realize that, despite the positive feedback I was receiving from countless people, I was and am one of an outrageously small minority willing to speak out against what is happening to and in our country.

Those of us fortunate to have been born in America need to remember that it is not enough for the citizens of a republic merely to pay taxes and obey the laws. It is our bounden duty actively to engage in its processes. Our elected representatives are our servants, paid by us and subject to our informed supervision and criticism. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” or, to quote another great American, James Baldwin, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

We’ve always been accused of being the most selfish and self-centered generation this country ever produced. Let us now act to prove our critics wrong, once and for all. Certainly the possible repercussions are more frightening than they were back in The Day. The power is in the hands of far fewer people than it was then. But let us not forget that our unbridled greed, our unprecedented apathy and our vast carelessness were the causes of that too. That the risks are enormous only proves that the stakes have never been higher. Remember, there is strength and safety in numbers. If we can come together now as we did in our youth, nothing can harm us and we will prevail.

Finally, as a social worker, I act as program coordinator for elderly services. To my bemused chagrin, my job has made me realize that our generation, which was so quick to denigrate our elders when we were young, needs to turn to our parents’ generation for inspiration, for they are the ones who are providing the profiles in courage today.

We who sang so along with those words so cockily all those years ago, ought now to be burning with shame when we regard the the indomitable courage of Senator Byrd; when we regard the uncompromising morality of Pope John Paul II; when we regard the unswerving journalistic integrity of Helen Thomas; when we consider that the principles of the Greatest Generation serve to make its members the people who are the most outspoken in their opposition to this war and our country’s current climate of fear.

But then, they cut their teeth on Franklin Roosevelt’s incomparable pronouncement, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.”

Let us, even at this late date, adopt those gallant words as our own.

In conclusion, I quote the words of Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, uttered in the year so many of us were born, 1950.

“Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism … are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism —

The right to criticize.

The right to hold unpopular beliefs.

The right to protest.

The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood. Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

The American people are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds lest they be politically smeared … by their opponents. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.”

Laurie Manis is the daughter of a WWII veteran, the widow of a Viet Nam veteran and the mother of a Navy Reservist. She was a plaintiff in the anti-war lawsuit against President Bush and is a member of Military Families Speak Out. Ms. Manis is scheduled to be a guest on the “Barry Farber Show” on the Talk America Radio Networks on April 16, 2003.

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