We Are the People Who Fear Nothing
There is something about righteous defiance. It has a power that is greater than the sum of its parts. As Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "When you are right, you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative." Or as Gil Scott Heron said, "If you don't stand for something, you'll go for anything."
As I feel the icy winds of the Bush administration blowing down my back as an outspoken activist and independent journalist, I find I am becoming only more resolute in my beliefs and my strength to speak until they gag me. During my lifetime, I have witnessed many people risking their own personal safety for what they believe. I have also watched many of those people mowed down in senseless deaths early in life. But as Holly Near sings, "You can kill a man, but not a song, when it's heard the whole world round."
Near wrote that line in the 1970s for Victor Jara, the famous Chilean folksinger and activist. In 1973, Chilean President Augusto Pinochet had Jara's hands broken in his final moments, taunting him in public to play his guitar with broken hands. But Jara then started singing magnificently, a song of the people's power, until the government machine-gunned him to death. Near continues in her song saying, "It could have been me, but instead it was you, so I'11 keep doing the work you were doing, as if I am two."
In the Winter of 1943, seven prisoners at the Nazi death camp Treblinka dug a tunnel from their barracks to the outside of Treblinka's first fence. The guards pursued the escapees, following their footprints in the snow. One prisoner did escape, but the rest were caught, tortured and hung. The last prisoner to die shouted political statements from the gallows. It is this lack of fear, right up to death, that haunts me when I fear risking my little bit of American safety and security for issues like world famine, war, the environment and free trade. I feel a responsibility to those who died without fear. So what if goons in riot gear paid by the state want to assault me for speaking out? I feel an obligation to go on, "as if I were two."
I watched Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. in jail. Both won Nobel Peace Prizes in the end. I watched the police who beat Rodney King on television walk free and the resultant riots that had to happen. I watch now as George W. Bush tears my country and the world to shreds. I have begun to feel that there is no room for fear as an American. Not with this blood on our hands. No justice, no peace. For real.
This is the time to be that metaphoric defiant and brave teenager, unafraid of your parents' threats and wrath. This is not about your personal safety anymore. This is about the safety of the world. This is about disease, pollution and the degradation of the Earth for a few rich families. This is about American gluttony and American cowardice.
Americans are afraid to take action. They are afraid to stand up for what they know is right the moment that riot police show up with big sticks and chemical weaponry. The powers that be know this--that is why they send the cops out there in that armor. Yet when I see that militarism against free speech on American streets, it only strengthens my resolve. And I am not alone.
I remember being a teenager and figuring out that the whole authority game had limits. For instance, once I was "grounded," meaning that I could not use the phone, do anything after school or see my friends. Kind of the type of thing that the government has sentenced Sherman Austin to, now that he is out of jail. Austin is "grounded" with respect to his "anarchist" friends and the use of his computer and the Internet. So I remember being 16 and being grounded. My dad was twisted and enjoyed his authority. The phone rang in my bedroom while I was grounded. I was amazed that my dad had left it connected. I picked the phone up and discovered that he had left the phone intact but had taken out the part that you talk into. I could hear my friends, but they could not hear me. Twisted.
I remember thinking that I was already in as much trouble as I supposedly could be in. I was expelled from school; I was grounded. Then it hit me. If I snuck out and defied the punishment, all they could do, basically, was expand the grounding--which I was already defying! I remember thinking that they could beat me and kill me, but that was about where we had gotten to. If I did not mind them and did not follow their punishments for really stupid things, all they could do was laud on more meaningless punishments that I would not obey or escalate it to physical violence to try to control me. And the violence just made me hate them more. When my dad threatened to "beat me bloody blue, " I remember thinking, "You just go for it, you sick bastard." You cannot control people who are not afraid. You cannot control people who have replaced that fear with anger.
My mom used to say that the time to fear civil unrest is when the people have nothing to lose. That is very true. At this point in my life, I see the Bush administration's use of riot squads with machine guns in the streets to silence real free speech in the same way I saw my parents' ridiculous punishments for doing nothing dangerous as a kid. It does not scare me; it enrages me. And just like I realized that the worst my parents could do was beat and kill me I realize the worst that the Bush administration can do is jail and torture me. Since I was raised in poverty and have little to lose, I can tell you that I am as defiant against the USA PATRIOT Act and Bush's vision for the world as I was against my groundings as a teen. And like my mom said, those with the least to lose are the most dangerous.
In Anne Cameron's Child of Her People, she describes leaving one's body to avoid letting the white men rape her soul along with her body. She describes that feeling I have felt and expressed, that the worst they can do is kill me. "She looked at them and knew she could only die, that was all, that was the worst thing anybody or anything could ever do to her. And if she died, so what? She only lived inside her body and her body was not her. If they killed the body, so what; she would become something else, or she would be or become nothing--it didn't matter.
There is a point where the soul has to disengage to endure, as Cameron describes. Jails are one of the places this occurs. Poverty is another one of these soul-disengaging situations. Rape is another. Once people have learned how to disengage their souls when being abused by the powers that be, the powers that be lose traction rapidly. This is the breeding ground for anarchy. This lack of fear, mixed with sincere and righteous hatred of abusive and brutal authority, is as old as humans. Mix that with some hopelessness and nothing left to lose, and you have raw power. This is the cocktail that Bush and his cronies have brewed for the world.
Kirsten Anderberg is an activist journalist based in the Pacific Northwest.
© Earth First! Journal Brigid 2005