Water Man Spouts

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Postcard from Chestnut Lodge

{1} "A function of free speech ….is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces ….unrest ….or even stirs people to anger."
--Justice Douglas

I found the above quote in Associate Justice Abe Fortas’s 1968 book, "Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience (We have an Alternative to Violence)." I had been thinking about Fortas’s book, after reading some of the curious reactions to the recent ad by MoveOn.org and the protest by Code Pink.

Sometimes I think it would be nice if other people read the book that the Washington Evening Sun recommended "that every demonstrator ought to carry around in his hip pocket. It is small enough, and it is important enough." Maybe they could loan it to the DUers who find MoveOn and Code Pink unsettling. It might even stir people to discuss the variety of options open to people to express their discontent.

My friend Phoebe Loosinhouse wrote a post on DU:GD:Politics yesterday about Code Pink. Phoebe compared Code Pink to rodeo clowns of the left, and said that, "Both groups are brave people in funny outfits who put themselves at risk in precarious and unpredictable situations in order to save others." I liked that, though a few people were stirred to anger by it.

Years ago, Norman Mailer compared Abbie Hoffman to a chimney sweep. "I don’t know what chimney sweeps looked like, but I always imagined them as having a manic integrity that glared out of their eyes through all the soot and darked-up skin. It was the knowledge that they were doing an essential job that no one else would do. Without them, everybody in the house would slowly, over the years, suffocated from the smoke."

{2} "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism ….
--Justice Davis; 1866

The above quote is also found in Abe Fortas’s book, in chapter 3: "The Rights of the State and Its Duty in War as well as Peace." I am hopeful that even if people disagree about specific forms of public protest, that we can agree on the importance that the protections provided for protest by the Bill of Rights.

A while back, some Catholic Workers engaged in an act of civil disobedience, based upon the example set by Philip and Daniel Berrigan during the Vietnam War era. They were tried as the "St. Patrick’s Four" in federal court in Binghamton, NY. I can remember that some people on DU found their actions unsettling, and were as willing to say mean things about them, as they are to say negative things about MoveOn and Code Pink.

I attended part of their trial in Binghamton. Early on, there were many police, keeping the pro-war and anti-war groups separate outside the court house. Things were tense. But after a few days, everyone had become familiar with one another, and there were some very interesting discussions involving the pro-war and anti-war people. Although there were significant differences of opinion about the war in Iraq, by the end of the trial, everyone was able to agree that it is important for citizens to exercise their Constitutional rights.

We all probably have own ideas of what type of public protests would best advance our views on the war in Iraq. My own thought is of a large group of people who would stand, sit, and/or kneel in a public place, and remain silent while they read the Constitution, or the bible, koran, or gita, or even one of Erich Fromm’s books. I would hope that the people could pray, meditate, fantasize, and smile.

Of course, that is just my idea of a nice form of protest. I recognize that other people would view such a thing differently than I do. And that is one of the interesting things about attempts to communicate: people may intend one message, and others often interpret it differently.
If you could participate in any one type of public demonstration, what would it be like? What message would you intend to get across? How would other people view it?

H2O Man


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