Taking A Stand Is Dangerous Business

Taking a stand and speaking your mind has always been a dangerous business. All yesterday I thought of K. Pythia Theocritos’ guest post on Daughters of Eve:

I can smile, laugh, offer witty comebacks with a hint of “sista-speak”, but never, ever, disagree or venture to correct. In the pagan community I’ve sensed being two steps away from the territory of“uppity negro.” I’ve seen it in the eyes of 40 year old women, hell bent on using their “Irishness/Scottishness” as an excuse to exercise poor manners at any given opportunity. I’ve heard it in the patronizing tones of leadership who instantly equate my eloquence as an attack on their institution and delicate sensibilities. To “know my place” means to be the constant beginner, willing to claim even the most undereducated one-book priestess as my better.

Though I am whiter-than-Wonderbread, I really related to a lot of what Theocritos had to say. To speak up, to speak well, to speak crictically, to question, to examine and to debate is to wrongly be seen as being on the offensive, to maliciously attack. I count among my dearest friends people who can disagree with me, debate with me, question me, criticize me, all without attacking me or being offended themselves.

Free speech is dangerous, not in and of itself, but to those who perceive questions, criticisms and debate as an attack. Like the rest of you, I’ve been watching Occupy Wall Street, much as I watched the Tea Party, and I’m appalled at the amount of vitriol  being heaped on ordinary people taking a stand and speaking their mind. Even people I respect from other faiths, find themselves unable to muster an ounce of Christian charity for protests on the other side of the political divide. I truly believe that at the core Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are two different expressions of the same frustration. Both use the language of revolution when addressing our government and both have proven to be movements that defy containment, or taming.

At the dawn of our nation we were aware of the price of free speech and of revolutionary talk. When we failed to gain a representative voice in the British government, we began to speak of revolution, knowing the dire consequences. Knowing the revolutionary talk in the colonies had already endangered their lives, Ben Franklin famously remarked at the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Borne of the enforced silence and powerlessness imposed upon us by a foreign government came about a nation who has held to the ideal of a nation of free speech and the right to public assembly for the addressing of grievances. We don’t always hold to this ideal, and it’s taken a long time for women and minorities to gain any ground when it comes to being heard.

Even so, it’s still disheartening to read about Oakland this morning. Friends in California keep sharing ever more disturbing photos and stories, and Jon Stewart, as usual, points out how ridiculous the overreaction by the police has been. Exercising your constitutional rights shouldn’t make you vulnerable to attack by your own country. Taking a peaceful stand for your political principles should not leave you subject to tear gas and rubber bullets. That is not what America is about.

The most heartbreaking thing I have seen all morning is a Marine incensed at the treatment of his brother, also a veteran, in Oakland.

This image has been making the rounds on social media.

Facebook page Being Liberal and other media outlets have identified the young vet as USMC Scott Olsen, and provided an address to send Get Well cards.

Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have been largely influential thanks to the internet and social media. When you see the bruises police left on someone you know and can share that image with thousands of people at once, mainstream media becomes irrelevant. This isn’t the first time protesters have been attacked in the US. We’ve seen it at Kent State during Vietnam and in Seattle at the WTO protest.

It’s my hope the both sides of the political divide can come together to find a solution. It’s my hope that we stop demonizing each other and see free speech as a mode of expressing grievances and not as an attack. It’s my hope that people stop to listen to each other without baring their teeth or raising up weapons. It’s my hope that blood will no longer be shed in the United States as a consequence of speaking out and taking a stand. The problems are too big to be solved by a divided nation. Our problems are too big to ignore. Our anger is too justified to be dismissed. We should be able to speak out freely, to address our grievances peacefully, without fear of being attacked. We have fought and shed blood for centuries for the right to free speech and should not suffer to be forced into silence by violence or intimidation. What Ben Franklin uttered centuries ago is still very true today:

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

UPDATE: According to Micheal Moore, Marines are leading the way for Occupy Oakland to resume it’s protest.

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