Looking back

Just finished Barbara Kingsolver's newest, The Lacuna. Her fictionalized protagonist interacts with the real history of the early twentieth century: Russian revolution, Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and finally, the anti-communist witch hunters in Washington. I don't know much about Russian history, but the witch hunters had a profound affect on me. I was 16 years old and started college in 1950 at the height of all the madness. The college seemed to be noted for its communist sympathies (the chancellor was one of the few who stood up early on to the various investigations), and my father was worried about what this would do to me. He made me promise not to get involved and not to sign any petitions. Did I know any Communists? Maybe. Was I afraid? Absolutely!

I obeyed him until I finished school, after all he was paying the bills. Then I decided I would never act out of fear again. I sign any petitions that sound reasonable. I write my Congress people often, and tell them exactly what I think. But I have given up marching. After months of marching against the Vietnam war, and being photographed (by the FBI) so often I have no soul left, I decided the whole thing was useless. 

All during the Bush administration I felt we were headed back to the same mentality that made Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover into heroes. I still feel like we're going there when I hear Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, etc. expounding on patriotism, being an American and denigrating Obama and the Democratic Party.

Going over the Constitution with my Somali refugee I realized we have diluted the power of that amazing document. How about the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We have made religion a major concern of government, freedom of speech and freedom of the press into a mockery of rational thinking and reasonable ideas. And here in Pittsburgh we have more than a few questions about the right of the people to peaceably assemble. My student has many questions about our right to bear arms. He's afraid of his neighbors and their guns.

Have you read the preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the
common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings
of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.

Sometimes I think it should read: We the lobbyists of the United States, in order to pursue more perfect profits, …And how do you insure domestic tranquility when you don't know who is carrying the submachine gun? Explaining all this to him was not easy. I'm glad he passed the test and we can go on to something easier.


3 thoughts on “Looking back

  1. Ain’t that the truth! I’m about ready to boycott the news–any news. I’ll just stay in the house and read old books and watch old movies. Believe I’ll be happier that way.

  2. Cultures protecting their own. Chicano gangs no longer speak a language I understand. A while ago it was black gangs.
    What made me most angry in 1960, once I recovered from the sign over the drinking fountain, Colored, was that I had to sign a statement saying I was not a Communist and would support the government. What? I didn’t understand this language at all. It was the language of Red baiting paranoia.
    At least I understood the language when I marched along side you, metaphorically speaking. I was totally amazed that I was on Nixon’s bad guy list. Flabbergasted. It took me years to learn that he had regular bad guy lists and Student bad guy lists. You were probably on one of his lists too. My friends couldn’t get secret clearances for their jobs. All of life was altered for us all for two generations because of the paranoia of a few.
    Thanks for this great post.

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