Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Radicalized citizens

I've been putting off writing this post for a while, hoping that things would settle down, that we could resume our regularly scheduled lives without waiting for the next ugly thing to happen. Or maybe I've just been in denial about the whole thing, refusing to accept that my fellow citizens could truly resort to these kinds of behaviors.

I've gone back a bit in time, thanks to the internet, to refresh my memory about the period of time - late 60s through mid-70s or so - when the radicals in this country were on the left. Many - maybe most - were so far left that even those of us who identified ourselves as Democrats couldn't relate to them. I didn't know anyone who identified with the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Black Panthers, or Students for a Democratic Society, but I lived a rather sheltered life in the South, free from most of the frustrations and concerns these organizations sought to address. In looking back, I suppose I felt that they really didn't have anything to do with me, and it seemed unlikely that my life would be impacted by them. I also lived near a US Air Force base and most of the people I associated with supported the military - and, by extension - the war in Vietnam.

We were also, during these years, still numbed by the several assassinations that had been carried out against liberal figures - both Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X - and I suppose felt that it couldn't get much worse.

It's been a long time since I've been as concerned as I am today about the tenor of the conversation in this country.

It frightens me that elected officials are receiving death threats because of their votes or because of the color of their skin. It deeply disturbs me - as it should any person of goodwill - that there are those who would attempt to influence the votes of our officials through threats and intimidation. I believe strongly that, in a free society, we have not only the right but the obligation to make our feelings known to our representatives. We can make those statements through our votes, our letters, our phone calls, our donations; when we make them by threatening the well-being of others then we are perilously close to becoming that which we despise.

When I see and hear the hatred and anger that is being expressed by so many on the Right; when I see elected representatives encouraging and providing venues for this anger; when I hear talk radio personalities and public figures using words like "target," "crosshairs," "reload," in their rhetoric; and when explicit threats are left on voice mails and the addresses of family members are published on the internet; when I hear words comparing our President to the most hated and reviled man of the 20th century; all of these things make me fearful for our nation and for my safety and that of my loved ones.

As a free society we must recognize the responsibility that is inherent in that freedom. We must remember that our right to free speech does not extend to the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, or to slander or libel others by our words. And though most of the language that is spoken in these rallies and on television and radio can claim free speech protection, there is still a responsibility to be aware of the influence we may have on those whose claim to mental stability is tenuous at best.

I invite you to view the following two clips for a sense of what is going on. For those of you who do not subscribe to my political views, I apologize that they are from a liberal television show - Rachel Maddow on MSNBC - and ask that you not let that influence your perception of what is going on. I have seen most of these clips on a variety of venues (though not on FOX News, since I don't watch it), and am satisfied that they are representative of what is happening today in our land. They are long, but I think they are well worth the time spent.

Finding the origin of political violence

Right wing threats of violence intensify

We truly must find a way to come together in this country. We are dangerously close to losing what so many have given their lives to secure.