A growing number of Americans are
beginning to identify with the pro-democracy activists whose courage
opened much of the world to freedom in the final decades of the 20th
We remember and honor the poet revolutionary Vaclav Havel of
Czechoslovakia, where Charter 77 rendered the flowers and songs of a
velvet revolution more powerful than the guns of oppression. We
remember the shipyard hero, Lech Walesa, of Poland. We remember those
who stood non-violently in Russia, in Yugoslavia, in Tiananmen Square,
in East and West Germany. It was their fearless living that ended the
Cold War, not Reagans saber rattling.
When people stand united with certain courage against oppression,
they get their way. That is an axiom in the geometry of world history.
To say we are oppressed in America sounds remarkably like the
whining of spoiled children. We live such privileged lives compared to
many in the world, it is true. We have our cars and our homes or
apartments most of us, and our television shows and our clean cities
and glittering stores cornucopias--and theaters and a thousand kinds
of systems and conveniences and communication devices and all the rest
that seem to work and serve us with well-maintained reliability.
Living in the midst of such luxury, it is hard to imagine that one
might not be free that freedom might be an illusion, a fraud.
Was the hooped-skirted, ante-bellum Southern Belle, living her life
in the plantation mansion amid her luxuries, a free human being--or
was she as constrained from independent action as the slaves who
served her luxury? Our homes are now filled with the cheap products of
slave societies, and our streets are safe because those who dare move
against the system are locked away by the millions, so that their
forced labor can serve us, too. But we are free and happy, we think.
We are Americans. We need no Velvet Revolution, for our lives are
sufficient; they are velvet couches, made in China, affordable to us
because the best part of the price is paid by others, by the young
worker in China, by the unemployed fellow in our own town, and by his
children who pay in a thousand ways.
So, we have it made. Yes, it is a problem that we Americans use a
third of the world's resources, and that global pollution and the
balance of our trade are all completely unsustainable, and that we can
only get the cheap resources we desire by destroying democracies
around the world and installing dictators to whom we can dictate; and
all this sowing of bitterness is a harvest of terrorism now and to
come, but we can at least live for today in our freedom and our
happiness. We, empire's debutantes, need not look out our plantation
house window to the slave quarters in the distance, when the same
window will give us our beautiful reflection. But the small, everyday
injustices of a population must flow somewhere; indeed, they gather
into great rivers that flow through capitols and pentagons, where the
selfish energies combine and become the bombs and machine-gun roar and
rattle of our bloody agents in the world. Our vote every four years is
a weak ceremony of little importance compared to how we live our
personal lives, which empowers either good or evil in the world.
But as for our freedom, what do we have left of it? No man or woman
is free whose life is built upon the suffering of others. Slavery
enslaves the master more than the slave, for the master is enslaved in
mind as well as body. And so we take off our shoes at the airport and
are too dumbed-down to think why, and we send our children to factory
schools that are the abattoirs of their tender imaginations and grand
potentials, and we are too hypnotized to think much of it. We bow our
heads to our bosses, without the clear minds to mourn for our human
dignity, for we dare not miss a paycheck or else the credit card and
mortgage bales on our backs will come crushing down on us, and that is
all that matters, we have been programmed to believe not think.
Our lives have been stolen; we have no place to go, no meaningful
choices--only meaningless, consumer choices. Decide to live the life
of a poet, or a farmer, or a vagabond, or a philosopher, and count the
cost of that. Can you afford it--can you afford freedom? Are you free
to make big changes in your life, or do you have too many obligations
to others? Financial entanglements have come to define human
relationships, so that the elite may prosper.
Was it not ever so? Did not the frontier farmers and the
townspeople feel the constraints of their position, their obligations
to family, church, community? They did so. I remember this life. It
was imperfect, but it was different than today: people chose their
oppressions and built lives. They were pawns in their own schemes and
social hierarchies, and the fodder for the wars of the elites, but
there was a sense of freedom that is missing now. Today's oppressions
have organized in some inhuman way that serves against our interests
and against the interests of society itself more permanently and
aggressively. It is evidenced in so many new ways, from unnecessary
wars built upon great lies, to election frauds and the dismantling of
social programs by the device of other great lies, and the creation of
permanent war so that power over us may be extended forever in ways
small and grave: our shoes are to come off at the airport, our
children are to be shot and blown up, and our debt is to be the great
burden that keeps the bales upon our backs and all of us in our
places. There is, in other words, a permanently vicious aspect to life
today that was only an occasional visitor to us before when the wars
came, when the union contract expired. The boot of greedy oppression
is now always at our necks, it seems. And, like medical companies who
own Congress or oil companies who own White Houses, it seem to have
become the nature of the beast widely understood and generally, if
But the pursuit of happiness? There it is, a phrase central to the
world's idea of America. If some people in this country could erase
those words from our Declaration, they would do so--and replace them
with something more religious or otherwise authoritarian and demanding
of obedience instead of the nurturing of our human potential. But the
words remain there on that parchment, and indelibly upon our hearts
and imaginations. That is why there is a velvet revolution brewing,
and it is not the whining of spoiled children, but the song of freedom
of brave men and women who are prepared to let the bales upon their
backs fall and mix with the old tea in the harbor.
And this phrase, the pursuit of happiness, the central red magma of
our collective political souls, the energy source of all our
revolutions including this one, calls not for our selfish enjoyment of
other people's labors, but for the freedom to live meaningful lives in
a land of justice where our democracy is our tool to better the earth
as a happy human outpost in the cold universe; a warm reprieve from
the heartless and fatal logic of time and space, and a reflection here
and now of God's love, or, absent that according to your beliefs, our
best make-do substitute. For brotherhood is enough, and democracy is
our belief in brotherhood and our commitment to it.
I have long admired the Europeans for the fact that they discuss
politics constantly. The sidewalk café conversation is superior for
the maintenance of democracy, when compared to our sitting in front of
endlessly dumbed-down news broadcasts and newspaper accounts. Even
during this recent disclosure of election fraud in Ohio, the news
channels all but ignored it, and the main story in the New York Times,
even as Senators stood against a sham election, was a long report on
the disruption made to Congress's mindless train schedule.
The sharing of email and our occasional standing together in
protests is the best we Americans can do to create the community of
democracy and raise the barricades of its defense. Or is it?
We tend to fall into the politics of victimization and anger. We
are defensive, when in fact our only real success must come from
another way: from the promotion and spreading of a lifestyle that we
model with lives of joy and justice and sustainable common sense, and
from a mending of the split in American culture that now colors our
national map. For we are not reds and blues; we share beliefs in
common: freedom, justice, unity, brotherhood. It is only in our
information that we differ, and those of us with better information
have an obligation to share and, by doing so, widen the unification of
the American people, whose interests are much the same.
This we can do if we understand that truth is conveyed and minds
are convinced not by our words but by our actions--to live free, to
find and share joy, to earn our livings not at the expense of others
or of the earth. Who will not follow, one by one at first, young
people first, mothers and then fathers, pastors and then flocks?
The soulful way forward we seek for our country and the world is to
be found in mending the house divided. Not by the whisperings of fear,
the shouts of anger or the whining of victimization, but by joy
itself, and creativity, and a confident chuckle at the folly of the
old, dead-end ways of life.
War breeds consumer materialism. The Civil War brought the Gilded
Age; the First World War brought the Roaring Twenties; The Second
World War brought on the material binge we now maintain with ad-hoc
wars as necessary. Wars destroy all other values, leaving only
materialism. Can the process work backward? Can we bring peace by
living in more sensible and beautiful ways? Yes, for the future is
always being forged in the present. Lives of joy, if we create them,
will bear joyous fruit.
Serving each other is the joy of life. It does us no good to rise
up every four years and comb through housing projects and poor
neighborhoods, begging for votes, when we were needed there all
along--needed to bring joy and education to the children, resources to
parents, tools for self-representation and community progress. In the
current push in the Democratic Party for a new national chairman, the
debate centers on how to better reach more people with our political
message, when our elections are but report cards for how we have
served our communities all along. The work of a successful party or
movement depends on how well it organizes people every day for the
improvement of free and joyful living, for the power to shape their
futures and care for their children, for the power to extend their
higher values into the world and thus serve their dreams of
brotherhood, justice and the peace that comes naturally from
brotherhood and justice. And this peace needs no armies nor preemptive
slaughters; no torture chambers nor even the taking off of our shoes
at airports as if our old globe were still large enough for us to be
safe in an unjust world if only we will take off our shoes!
The poor of this country are so deprived of options that they now
flock to churches, where the government money now comes, so that
people can be turned away from the idea that government--democracy--is
our common tool for serving each other's needs.
If a party or a movement is to be successful, it must become that
place where people go for personal help, like the union hall or the
old Grange hall or the thing we must see next, the party office in
every neighborhood that needs help, filled with volunteers who have
learned that the joy of life comes only through service.
My advice to the activist is to look at the work of groups like
City Repair of Portland, and of ACORN, and other groups that work to
make everyday life more joyful for our people. Get involved with them.
There are simply not enough of us to effect dramatic political change
as things stand today, so we must labor happily in these vineyards
until we are enough. And we must open the eyes and minds of our
neighbors. Just as the religious groups go door-to-door with their
pamphlets, so must we, with pamphlets that fill in the gaps of
information about our government, our environment, and our situation
in America and around the world. These activities--working with people
who need help and spreading the truth--must be joined, and our
political work will come easier.
Let us string lights in the trees and bring out tables of food. Let
us buy the things we need from the workers here who need the work. Let
us invite the musicians and the artists and the academics to do their
part. Let us do, in short, what we would do if the present order fell
to feathers with all its mortgages and credit cards. It will do just
that if we so elect, and this is the election that matters. The things
we dislike in the present order are sustained only by our fearful
Look at me: I am still alive, and I am looking at you, and you are
alive. This is our world as much as anyone else's. We who are old
enough or wise enough to see the edges of life can understand that we
have a choice between fear and joy, and between victimization and
service. All elections and other indications to the contrary, happy
days are here again when we but say they are. We do not turn our
hearts away from injustice or suffering, indeed we mend them as best
we can with our joyful engagement and our courageous non-cooperation
with the forces of fear and death. And no one can take away our joy,
for even our suffering for justice and brotherhood is joyful.
This is our Velvet Revolution, American style. We resist what we
must and what we can, but our victory is not in defense, but in a
cultural offensive made irresistible by the power of love and courage,
pulling our people together, and our own lives together, over time.
We have tried this before in America. Things got in our way: drugs,
wars, fears. We became parents. We became distracted. It is now time
to get it right.
Doris "Granny D" Haddock is celebrating her 95th birthday (Jan.
24) with a quick speaking tour in Florida over the next few days and
then speaking at the January 20th Inauguration Day Protests in