Letter from the Editor: Bring 'Em On
by Shannon Manning
These are hot days. The heat is getting to us all lately. Loving America is like falling in love with sunshine. You forget how hot it gets. And I’ve been burning myself lately, staring into the sun. Not that I would have it any other way.
All morning I have been sitting in the hammock in my rented summer house drinking pear spritzers and reading Martha Stewart’s Living magazine as my thousand dollar a month apartment in Brooklyn sits empty. I could almost be a socialite Republican, if my house weren’t in a depressed winter resort in the Catskills, and if I had any sort of income or cash savings. My 401K from my days working for Republicans could last me several months if I could just convince myself I’m retired.
Pipe Up! was created as war approached to give people in the arts a place to speak out about things that fired them up. We spoke out, and also tried to make you laugh. Now the president says the war is Mission Accomplished, even as Americans and Iraqis continue to die, even as it becomes more clear that the war aims that weren’t fabricated remain unfulfilled. Now the president tells the attackers to bring it on. The president says we are prepared, but we are not. I, for one, am not. Meanwhile, the neocons are preparing to resume nuclear testing and use, paving the road to empire and to hell. Our fire is at risk of burning out, or being extinguished.
In Oak Park on Independence Day, my heart sank when I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt with an American flag and the words “America under Attack.” Am I the only one who feels uncomfortable using that CNN slogan (and the event it evokes) as a statement of patriotism? Am I crazy to sometimes bristle at the aggressive waving of the flag? Am I the only one who gets a creepy vibe when I enter a town covered in yellow ribbons, confused about what the ribbons are intended to represent: unity with the soldiers or the ones who sent them there?
After some slow-cooked pork butt and the annual dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence (with Pipe Up! contributors Jim and Manning Peterson), we surfed the local news to watch the fireworks. Every station focused on people of various ethnicities celebrating the holiday. Every anchor repeated the mantra that diversity is what it means to be an American. That was neat. But being American also means ensuring, celebrating, and listening to diversity of opinion. Ideas do not melt in the pot. The news coverage of recent political dissent, what little coverage there was, portrayed it as un-American, the actions of a seditious fringe group.
So what to do? How do you celebrate Americanism when all around you the word is being used as a vicious weapon? When the weapon is turned against you and yours?
Being an American means being born into – or naturalized into or otherwise embracing – a land where you can be an active participant in a democracy, governed by laws and not by men. Being American means protecting the Constitution, democratic, pluralistic ideals, and our image in the world. Being American means supporting the troops when they are defending America and the Constitution and bringing them home when they are not. Being American means supporting the president when he is defending America and the Constitution, and challenging him when he is not. Being American means piping up.
These ideas were revolutionary in 1776. They should not be today.
Small gains have been made. Many are starting to question Bush’s prewar claims regarding weapons of mass destruction, and whether we were right to go to war for the reasons he laid out. Thoughtful people who formerly observed politics from a safe distance are starting to realize that sometimes being the devil’s advocate means that the devil actually has you on retainer, ready to do his work. Moveon.org’s online Democratic primary was an amazing event, giving attention and media credibility (and, as a result, money) to grassroots campaigns that wouldn’t otherwise be taken seriously by the media, media consumers, or even their own party. Whatever your thoughts on Kucinich and Dean, their antiwar stance in the face of the tyranny of public silence has revelaed a vein of dissent in the electorate, bypassing the anointed opinion-shapers and bringing the promise of a new inclusiveness and transparency to the electoral process. Activists are fighting for the same transparency and accountability in the rule of corporations. Even the anti-republic process of manufacturing public consent is becoming more visible.
I am starting to feel less alone. We have a nice long summer before the armchair political wars really kick in, and it’s going to get ugly. And beautiful, since the warriors on our side, and their side, on every side, are starting to stand up, hit the remote, hit the streets, and vote.
The sun is shining bright now and so I pull down my straw porkpie hat, kick a little swing into the hammock and write more country lyrics:
I’m stalking you America
Trying to talk to you America
Don’t get a restraining order against me
Accept my love and we’ll all be free
Living without sin and without benefit of clergy
America why can’t you see?
Don’t you see we’re already married?
So sit back and relax as we now bring you delightful summer reading from Pipe Up! We all need to rest up for the revolution, which has been penciled in for the fall.
Shannon Manning is a filmmaker and comedian who lives in Brooklyn.
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