by Philip Greenspan
(Swans - March 26, 2007) On Monday, March 11, I was a bit too hasty and a bit too careless. Result: a nasty fall that fractured my right knee, the base of my left hand, a rib, and severely bruised the left knee as well. The prognosis for a satisfactory recovery required me to don braces on my right leg and left hand and to hobble around on crutches for about eight weeks and demanded the cancellation and modification of many of my activist plans.
There are many outlets for exercising one's strongest convictions so there is no excuse, even injury or illness, for forsaking activism. Throughout history that message has been proclaimed in various ways by people of conscience. The great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri stated it succinctly:
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.
Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, and a most prominent black abolitionist gave it fire and intensity when he declared:
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. ...Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ...Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
The recently departed Molly Ivins applied it to the current situation in the U.S.:
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war.
My wife and I have been engaged in vigils, marches, and protests, locally, at West Point, in New York City, and Washington D.C. every week for over four years. We have joined and remain active in various humanitarian organizations for almost seven years. I have petitioned and spoken to political officials about proposed legislation and have written to the local newspaper. My favorite activity, however, is showing films that expose corrupt practices that have been hidden from the public.
The first amendment right of freedom of the press, which in today's world refers to the media, is a major impediment to an oppressive government if intensively and honestly pursued. The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a strong believer in a free press. His abundant output on the subject included this profound statement:
The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.
Another of his meaningful pronouncements was:
The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.
And to highlight the propensity of governments to manipulate the news:
The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper.
The films I show are an antidote to the pro-administration views the major media regularly feeds the public.
On Friday, March 16, as I'm typing this essay on my computer, I am assessing the consequences of my injuries with respect to our activism. We had to rule out our Saturday bus trip to Washington D.C. for the March 17 antiwar protest. The two films, 9/11 Press for Truth and The Ground Truth, which I intended to show on the bus, going and returning, will still be shown since I put them in the hands of another passenger. We won't be in Washington but we may attend our local Saturday afternoon vigils, probably for only half an hour, where I'll sit on a stool next to Irv, our 93-year-old regular. I was also unable to attend a round table discussion on Mexico, and a meeting of our local antiwar coalition. At both I had hoped to hand out flyers that listed three upcoming films I'd be presenting -- and attending, with crutches and all -- later in the month.
Members of organizations while in agreement on the goals to be achieved often differ on the best way to accomplish them. A majority at our local antiwar coalition vehemently opposes the distribution of flyers involving the implications of 9/11 at any of our protests, insisting that it would taint the group as radical thereby losing our hard-earned respect of the public. To counter that argument I presented a film last night that does not involve itself with any of the distained conspiracy theories. 9/11 Press for Truth depicts the difficulties encountered by families of 9/11 victims to obtain some reasonable answers for what occurred instead of the ridiculous and obvious fraudulent explanations that have been offered. I was disappointed that none of the majority group, although urged to attend, was open minded enough to view it. A discussion following the screening resulted in the formation of a local activist organization to explore and reveal the governments' responsibility for the occurrences of 9/11.
On Sunday the film will be Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, about the disgraceful jobs the companies that have been awarded contracts for billions of dollars such as Halliburton; Kellogg, Brown and Root; Blackwater; and others, are doing.
On Thursday evening, March 29, it will be Aristide and the Endless Revolution, on how the U.S. again pulled off a coup d'état against the overwhelmingly popular democratically elected Haitian president.
Before my next appointment with the orthopedist takes place, I'll be one of three members of the Tappan Zee Brigade of Veterans for Peace who, joined by other local activists on the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war, will meet at the local office of our congressman, Elliot Engel, to obtain answers to previously submitted questions. What will he do to stop the current war, prevent future wars, eliminate scandals in the military, and provide adequate treatment for injured soldiers?
Since the days of ancient Egypt medical practitioners have been prescribing placebos with success. I am a firm believer in the efficacy of the placebo and often self proscribed a heavy dose of what I thought might aid the existing treatment of my condition. This is similar to what the prominent journalist and peace activist Norman Thomas did to overcome an incurable illness with an ample supply of Marx Brothers movies, vitamin C, and rest (read his Anatomy of an Illness for details). In the past my placebos consisting of a unique diet; the enjoyment of music and/or comedy were quite helpful. The satisfaction from engaging in my preferred activities with like-minded friends will now be the placebo to offset any negative effects of my failure to strictly follow the medical advice.
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