We, the people: Speaking out is a privilege and responsibility of citizenship
News & Record
March 21, 2007
For most of my life, I believed that patriotism was at best an American flag bumper sticker on a Suburban and at worst a concept people like Oliver North wrap themselves in to defend indefensible actions.
But I have watched President Bush dismantle our civil rights in the name of security and I have attempted the perplexing math in which billions of dollars are spent on the war each week though our troops have neither the equipment they need on the battleground nor the services they deserve upon their return. And I have come to realize that patriotism, at least as it applies to the United States, means being willing to defend the Constitution when those elected to do so seem more inclined to shred it.
In that way, I suppose I should thank the President for helping me understand that the rights of American citizenship are not just a privilege but also a responsibility. “We, the people” is not simply a pretty turn of phrase but a reminder that the ultimate check to the power of our three branches of government lies with you and me and our willingness to tell our elected officials, even the President, when enough is enough.
This past Saturday, my husband, Rob, and I drove through the snow as it piled on the shoulders of Virginia’s highways to join tens of thousands of protesters in saying that enough has long been enough, echoing the sentiment written on so many picket signs: I love my country but I am ashamed of my government.
We walked past the White House en route to the meeting spot at Constitution Gardens. There, a stage was constructed with the loudspeakers pointed away from the Vietnam Wall in order to maintain the solemnity of the memorial. Still, from where we stood the sounds of America were clear: reggae, Mamba, hip-hop and Vietnam-era protest songs, music that reflected the diversity of those who took to the streets chanting “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Support our troops. Bring them home.”
Also assembled were hundreds of counter-protesters, most in black bikers’ leathers, many wearing the insignia of Vietnam veterans. Rob and I marveled that a population so abused by our government would continue to defend it, even as it repeats the same mistreatment with a new generation of military men and women. The counter-protesters held signs that read “Peace through strength,” and “Al-Qaida appeasers on parade.” They took pot-shots at our patriotism without seeming to realize that each step we took toward the Pentagon was in support of the Iraqi vets and their families who led the march, as well as the many members of the military who continue to risk their lives overseas for a war we know to be founded on lies, a war that has inspired, not diminished, worldwide terrorism.
Like many of the people who drove hundreds of miles to exercise their Constitutional rights, neither Rob nor I are pacifists. But we do believe that war should be a last resort, never embarked upon lightly or with frivolity, and never, ever for the sole purpose of profit.
What does democracy look like? The Constitution held aloft by thousands of angry citizens; 12-year-olds holding signs that read “Teens for Peace”; black-hooded protesters in orange jumpsuits defending the rights of detainees they will likely never meet; Vietnam vets fighting on opposite sides of a picket line but for the same men and women of our military.
This is what democracy looks like.