Tag Archive for torture

Progressivism: In pursuit of Justice

Lady Justice

Justice, both the scales and the sword.

“What is the current state of the Progressive Movement in America?” was the subject of a forum at the March Longmont Area Democrats meeting. The following are the especially heartfelt and honest prepared remarks by Padma Wick . Other forum members included Bob Kinsey, Strider Benston, Richard Juday, Rick Fitzgerald, and Jonathan Singer.

For many years I took part in various forms of activism to some degree. But I did not feel the ground under me cave until the 2000 election. Image a lake. Huge boulders have been thrown into the lake and those have produced movement. In my opinion the most profound movement has been the Occupy Movement, because it functions like moving water: fluid, organic and able to seep through and potentially break the wall sustained by corruption and violence. It will not be limited by the rules and demands of what Chris Hedges calls a dead system. Occupy has inserted into our language and press the grievances of the 99% (and perhaps more) of the people in the US and the world.

Of course, included in the 99% are Progressives, a term I often use and apply to myself. But I want to warn about labels. As soon as a label is applied that label can be usurped, distorted, dismissed and discredited. Sometimes we become attached to the label, rather than the fundamental cause which motivates us. For me the cause is the pursuit of justice: economic, political, social and environmental justice.

Some people remain loyal to a label, something like buying a brand, which has long since been bought out, outsourced and reduced in quality. As Democrats we need to be very wary of that. The temptation is to say, “I am a life long Democrat.” “My party right or wrong.” Certainly there are great members of the Democratic party, like many of you and our new State Representative, Jonathan Singer, who continue to fight the good fight. But I feel we should be vigilant and acknowledge that something has changed in the Democratic party. One of the skills of the Occupy movement is that it is vigilant and agile. It is not, as we have tried for so long, responding in the terms set down by Republicans and others in the ruling class.

With great respect for Jonathan, I say that I have no allegiance to any political candidate or elected official. My support depends on the degree to which they not only promise, but actually create (consummate with the power we assign them) economic, political, social and environmental justice. To quote T.S. Elliot, “affairs are now soul size.” At stake is not only the survival of our children and grandchildren, but of life on earth.

I have heard many people say, “I had no choice,” or “I have no choice but to vote for so-and so.” One ALWAYS has a choice! To my dying day I will have a choice. I may not make the right, courageous, or ultimately moral choice. God knows what I would do if the lives of my children or grandchildren were threatened. I do not judge the choices people make in extreme situations. Someone earns my respect for saying, I made this terrible choice because…….But I do not respect, “I had no choice.” As Strider BenstPon, has said, “If we say we have no choice, we are prisoners.”

Since Progressives value debate and differences of opinion, I will share with you the space I hold on the Progressive continuum. I will not vote for Obama, and certainly not for a Republican. Obama has said great things, both now and in ’08. But his actions don’t match his words. As a Constitutional Law Professor, who took a solemn oath, he has refused to use the legitimate powers of the President. He has not closed Guantanamo, ended rendition, torture, or insisted his cabinet pursue environmental and economic justice. Instead he has assumed unconstitutional powers for his and future Presidencies: the assassination of American citizens SUSPECTED of terrorist activities. And he has removed your primary Constitutional right of habeas corpus and made American citizens SUSPECTED of terrorist connections subject to military detentions without trial. The writ of Habeas Corpus called the “great order”, dates back to the Magna Carta in the 1200s, was lightly dismissed with the signing of NDAA. And there has been hardly mention of it in the press.

You will say I am unreasonable. At one time it was considered unreasonable to free slaves. Now it is considered reasonable to torture, unlawfully and indefinitely detain citizens, use drones against civilians, including Americans, and pollute our precious water supply for temporary gain. In such a situation I prefer to be unreasonable.

Our current situation is very difficult. I struggle all the time between acknowledging the gifts in my life and remaining informed and active. For balance I turn to these reminders:

Practice giving, but not so much that there is nothing left with which to work.

Observe precepts, but not so many that there is no freedom of choice.

Don’t confront what opposes, but find the place of least resistance.

Work hard, but not so hard that you don’t stop for tea.

Still the mind but not so much that it withers and dies.

So what can we, as individuals do? Break free of the bonds that have been created to keep our conscience subordinated to the will of a corrupt system. Do something that aligns with our true character. Remember that many forces are at work.

Whatever each of us does is a small part of a very large and complex flow that individually we can participate in, but not determine.

In Memory

Image courtesy of imgur

Living on the West Coast, I was not yet awake when the World Trade Center Towers were hit.  It was not my custom to turn on the television until around 11:00 AM; so it was around 9:30 AM when I received a phone call from my daughter letting me know that not only had the towers been hit, but they had collapsed.  I quietly, somberly and with a touch of disbelief replied, “This is an act of war.”  Indeed it was, and it may have changed us irreparably.

Like tens of thousands of Americans, I was glued to the television that day.  Some were undoubtedly frozen in their tracks.  For others, life went on.  In many ways I was amongst the latter, for later that day I received news by mail that was personally shattering.  The juxtapositioning of the personal and the national has colored my perception of September 11th ever since.

While we waited to learn of the number of dead and injured, a number that might have been in the tens of thousands, I could not help but ask about the thousands of Americans who die each day, or who are severely injured in accidents, or who are diagnosed with a terminal illnesses.  What of them and their families and friends?

Ten years later in a devastating economy that could have, should have, been prevented, I reflect on those who are homeless.  I reflect on those who have lost employment and who remain unemployed struggling to survive.  I reflect on those who live in poverty and who are dependent upon services paid by our tax dollars that have been cut and are likely to be slashed further.

And I ask, “Do Americans remain compassionate?”  “Or do they simply react to ritual and feel their responsibility is complete?”  We are likely to have the answer to those questions in the relatively near future.  And, frankly, I’m growing dreadful of what that answer might be.

In response to the attacks on September 11, many people reacted with anger and sought revenge.  Those reactions were understandable.  But many of our leaders took these attacks as a cynical opportunity to manipulate us further down the path of American Imperialism.  That path has cost lives and treasure well beyond what was lost on September 11, 2001.

We were told to “go shopping.”  The finger was pointed at Saddam Hussein who had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11.  Afghanistan, home of Al Qaeda, became an afterthought.  The wealthy were showered with tax cuts.  Wars went unpaid for.  Torture was afflicted.

The debt mounted, both financially and spiritually.  The real American deficit resides in our souls.  Somewhere around 20%, perhaps 25%, of our population adheres to the belief that if you have wealth, then God loves you because you are obedient to His will.  But if you are needy and suffering, then that is evidence that you are disobedient to God and deserve your fate.  Are the numbers of those who share those beliefs growing?  I pray they are not.

So tomorrow, when the 10th anniversary is behind us, I encourage each and every one of us to ask ourselves, “Who are we really?” “Is there compassion and empathy left in our nature?”  “Or do we suffer the moral turpitude that selfishness is morality and that morality is selfishness?”

We cannot change the damage that was done – by our enemies or by ourselves.  But we can decide that we are better than our past, that we can rectify at least some of our past actions, that we can do much better in the future. Yet I wonder if we have slipped so far that our arrogance now drives not only who we are but who we will be.