by Martin Murie
(Swans - June 4, 2007) Just now got back from a very efficient small garage, annual New York state-mandated vehicle inspection. My little four-cylinder pickup passed with colors flying. There was a customer there who believed in the good book's Revelation. He had utter confidence that "the time is at hand," the ultimate reckoning. Look at how messed up everything is in New York City and D.C. He didn't take sides on any issue, none of them matter. He reckons he's safe, just waiting it out.
But maybe he's an activist, pushing The Revelation of St. John the Divine? No, not this guy. He explicitly told me and a couple of mechanics taking a break that his belief was his alone, he wasn't concerned with what others thought. Rugged Individualism, in extremis, an American trait.
Driving home on a sunny summer morning I wondered if we are all forced, like it or not, onto an outermost fringe of that ruggedness, trapped there, committed to near total isolation from each other; one more step and we fall off the planet. So long Imperium Americanus, it's been quite a ride. There's a hard kernel of truth in that abstract notion, but it's not fit for action because action is a plunge into multiplicity, contradiction, exceptions, surprises.
So, multiplicity. Since the '03 attack on Iraq our antiwar protests have been an attraction. By that I mean, we attract people on the street. We have entertained drunks, and people with vehement complaints, and people who are spitting mad. Also, quiet passersby who give us a nod, a thumbs up or a few words of encouragement. We do not have a name for ourselves and we talk to anyone. Each of us has particular reasons for being there in the sleet, rain, snow, wind, ice underfoot, but we share a goal: end the wars. We "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home." Usually we socialize, our posters cluster and droop, but by now most of the traffic stream knows which side we are on and honk accordingly, or send an obscenity our way. It's as though our being there in person is the real point, the basic reality. Lately the honks outnumber by far the shouts of antagonism. Often the honks make up a gladsome chorus.
In these times it is our job to go all-out as defenders of the commonwealth, as compadres who love the old joke, "Everybody's crazy but you and me, and I sometimes wonder about you," and at the same time accept the fact that not one of us can reliably read the future, and accept the fact that some human faults are serious and get in the way, but a lot of our faults are not that big a deal. Diversity in Unity, it works well enough. It has to. It's all we have.
At first, back in '03, there was the hassle with American Legionnaires and Veterans of Foreign Wars. We were forced from Veterans' Memorial Park to the opposite corner. That was the high point of America Uber Alles, every other vehicle stickered with a plastic yellow ribbon, long columns of Interstate travelers with headlights on in broad daylight, and media reminders that we must not let the Vietnam Syndrome get us down. God Bless America everywhere.
Occasionally someone walking by will stand with us. We ask them to choose a slogan or statement or question from our by-now awesome poster collection. Talk about multiplicity! But those who join us on an impulse don't seem to care what the words say. This, again, supports the notion that putting your body in public view is the fundamental act.
I think we are all convinced that we are an essential part of today's society. We have to keep it up, because we are part of the struggle to turn our country around, to step back from the abyss. One huge task is to make up for the failure of the media to cover, regularly, the entire spectrum of opinion and happenings in our nation. There are others across the land doing what we do -- hold signs, wave, and talk. There are others writing and filming and creating poetry, staging dramas, pestering recruiting centers (those great raging grannies), dreaming up new efforts. It's a lively time, this window of opportunity. And sometimes it's a whole lot of fun.
Molly Ivins, outspoken Texas journalist, kept on getting more radical. Here, in part, her farewell.
So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth.
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