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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Short Film "Unto Dust" Wraps

I'm happy as a sandboy to announce that our short film, "Unto Dust" is in the can. I wrote the movie, based on the short story by Herman Charles Bosman - South Africa's Mark Twain. The indefatigable Mendy Groner produced and directed for Memetic Films.

Cast, crew, and technical support from all over South Africa have united to put Bosman's biting, ironic glimpse of Voortrekker life on film - yes, film - including Gatehouse Commercials, Media Film Services, NFVF, and Waterfront Post. And the additional support of Qualified Health, which is not a film company but instead does some useless thing or other like providing health care.

My deep thanks to everyone involved, and especially to Mendy Groner and Memetic.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

"The Blood Of Dresden" by Kurt Vonnegut

The Blood of Dresden

by Kurt Vonnegut

The author Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the allied bombing raids and was later forced to dig out bodies from the ruined city. In papers discovered by his son after his death last year, he provides a searing eyewitness account of the ‘obscene brutality’ that inspired his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

25/09/08 - as printed in "The Times"

It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: “Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that.

“Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.

“Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill – do you understand?”

His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. “Didn’t Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They’ll find out.”

And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened-up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high plane that most of our feverish fighters had no idea why they were fighting – other than that the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved.

A lot of people relished the idea of total war: it had a modern ring to it, in keeping with our spectacular technology. To them it was like a football game.

[Back home in America], three small-town merchants’ wives, middle-aged and plump, gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking home from Camp Atterbury. “Did you kill a lot of them Germans?” asked the driver, making cheerful small-talk. I told her I didn’t know.

This was taken for modesty. As I was getting out of the car, one of the ladies patted me on the shoulder in motherly fashion: “I’ll bet you’d like to get over and kill some of them dirty Japs now, wouldn’t you?”

We exchanged knowing winks. I didn’t tell those simple souls that I had been captured after a week at the front; and more to the point, what I knew and thought about killing dirty Germans, about total war. The reason for my being sick at heart then and now has to do with an incident that received cursory treatment in the American newspapers. In February 1945, Dresden, Germany, was destroyed, and with it over 100,000 human beings. I was there. Not many know how tough America got.

I was among a group of 150 infantry privates, captured in the Bulge breakthrough and put to work in Dresden. Dresden, we were told, was the only major German city to have escaped bombing so far. That was in January 1945. She owed her good fortune to her unwarlike countenance: hospitals, breweries, food-processing plants, surgical supply houses, ceramics, musical instrument factories and the like.

Since the war [had started], hospitals had become her prime concern. Every day hundreds of wounded came into the tranquil sanctuary from the east and west. At night, we would hear the dull rumble of distant air raids. “Chemnitz is getting it tonight,” we used to say, and speculated what it might be like to be the bright young men with their dials and cross-hairs.

“Thank heaven we’re in an ‘open city’,” we thought, and so thought the thousands of refugees – women, children and old men who came in a forlorn stream from the smouldering wreckage of Berlin, Leipzig, Breslau, Munich. They flooded the city to twice its normal population.

There was no war in Dresden. True, planes came over nearly every day and the sirens wailed, but the planes were always en route elsewhere. The alarms furnished a relief period in a tedious work day, a social event, a chance to gossip in the shelters. The shelters, in fact, were not much more than a gesture, casual recognition of the national emergency: wine cellars and basements with benches in them and sandbags blocking the windows, for the most part. There were a few more adequate bunkers in the centre of the city, close to the government offices, but nothing like the staunch subterranean fortress that rendered Berlin impervious to her daily pounding. Dresden had no reason to prepare for attack – and thereby hangs a beastly tale.

Dresden was surely among the world’s most lovely cities. Her streets were broad, lined with shade-trees. She was sprinkled with countless little parks and statuary. She had marvellous old churches, libraries, museums, theatres, art galleries, beer gardens, a zoo and a renowned university.

It was at one time a tourist’s paradise. They would be far better informed on the city’s delights than am I. But the impression I have is that in Dresden – in the physical city – were the symbols of the good life; pleasant, honest, intelligent. In the swastika’s shadow, those symbols of the dignity and hope of mankind stood waiting, monuments to truth. The accumulated treasure of hundreds of years, Dresden spoke eloquently of those things excellent in European civilisa-tion wherein our debt lies deep.

I was a prisoner, hungry, dirty and full of hate for our captors, but I loved that city and saw the blessed wonder of her past and the rich promise of her future.

In February 1945, American bombers reduced this treasure to crushed stone and embers; disembowelled her with high explosives and cremated her with incendiaries.

The atom bomb may represent a fabulous advance, but it is interesting to note that primitive TNT and thermite managed to exterminate in one bloody night more people than died in the whole London blitz. Fortress Dresden fired a dozen shots at our airmen. Once back at their bases and sipping hot coffee, they probably remarked: “Flak unusually light tonight. Well, guess it’s time to turn in.” Captured British pilots from tactical fighter units (covering frontline troops) used to chide those who had flown heavy bombers on city raids with: “How on earth did you stand the stink of boiling urine and burning perambulators?”

A perfectly routine piece of news: “Last night our planes attacked Dresden. All planes returned safely.” The only good German is a dead one: over 100,000 evil men, women, and children (the able-bodied were at the fronts) forever purged of their sins against humanity. By chance, I met a bombardier who had taken part in the attack. “We hated to do it,” he told me.

The night they came over, we spent in an underground meat locker in a slaughterhouse. We were lucky, for it was the best shelter in town. Giants stalked the earth above us. First came the soft murmur of their dancing on the outskirts, then the grumbling of their plodding towards us, and finally the ear-splitting crashes of their heels upon us – and thence to the outskirts again. Back and forth they swept: saturation bombing.

“I screamed and I wept and I clawed the walls of our shelter,” an old lady told me. “I prayed to God to ‘please, please, please, dear God, stop them’. But he didn’t hear me. No power could stop them. On they came, wave after wave. There was no way we could surrender; no way to tell them we couldn’t stand it any more. There was nothing anyone could do but sit and wait for morning.” Her daughter and grandson were killed.

Our little prison was burnt to the ground. We were to be evacuated to an outlying camp occupied by South African prisoners. Our guards were a melancholy lot, aged Volkssturmers and disabled veterans. Most of them were Dresden residents and had friends and families somewhere in the holocaust. A corporal, who had lost an eye after two years on the Russian front, ascertained before we marched that his wife, his two children and both of his parents had been killed. He had one cigarette. He shared it with me.

Our march to new quarters took us to the city’s edge. It was impossible to believe that anyone had survived in its heart. Ordinarily, the day would have been cold, but occasional gusts from the colossal inferno made us sweat. And ordinarily, the day would have been clear and bright, but an opaque and towering cloud turned noon to twilight.

A grim procession clogged the outbound highways; people with blackened faces streaked with tears, some bearing wounded, some bearing dead. They gathered in the fields. No one spoke. A few with Red Cross armbands did what they could for the casualties.

Settled with the South Africans, we enjoyed a week without work. At the end of it, communications were reestablished with higher headquarters and we were ordered to hike seven miles to the area hardest hit.

Nothing in the district had escaped the fury. A city of jagged building shells, of splintered statuary and shattered trees; every vehicle stopped, gnarled and burnt, left to rust or rot in the path of the frenzied might. The only sounds other than our own were those of falling plaster and their echoes.

I cannot describe the desolation properly, but I can give an idea of how it made us feel, in the words of a delirious British soldier in a makeshift POW hospital: “It’s frightenin’, I tell you. I would walk down one of them bloody streets and feel a thousand eyes on the back of me ’ead. I would ’ear ’em whis-perin’ behind me. I would turn around to look at ’em and there wouldn’t be a bloomin’ soul in sight. You can feel ’em and you can ’ear ’em but there’s never anybody there.” We knew what he said was so.

For “salvage” work, we were divided into small crews, each under a guard. Our ghoulish mission was to search for bodies. It was rich hunting that day and the many thereafter. We started on a small scale – here a leg, there an arm, and an occasional baby – but struck a mother lode before noon.

We cut our way through a basement wall to discover a reeking hash of over 100 human beings. Flame must have swept through before the building’s collapse sealed the exits, because the flesh of those within resembled the texture of prunes. Our job, it was explained, was to wade into the shambles and bring forth the remains. Encouraged by cuffing and guttural abuse, wade in we did. We did exactly that, for the floor was covered with an unsavoury broth from burst water mains and viscera.

A number of victims, not killed outright, had attempted to escape through a narrow emergency exit. At any rate, there were several bodies packed tightly into the passageway. Their leader had made it halfway up the steps before he was buried up to his neck in falling brick and plaster. He was about 15, I think.

It is with some regret that I here besmirch the nobility of our airmen, but, boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. The shelter I have described and innumerable others like it were filled with them. We had to exhume their bodies and carry them to mass funeral pyres in the parks, so I know.

The funeral pyre technique was abandoned when it became apparent how great was the toll. There was not enough labour to do it nicely, so a man with a flamethrower was sent down instead, and he cremated them where they lay. Burnt alive, suffocated, crushed – men, women, and children indiscriminately killed.

For all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own. The method was impersonal, but the result was equally cruel and heartless. That, I am afraid, is a sickening truth.

When we had become used to the darkness, the odour and the carnage, we began musing as to what each of the corpses had been in life. It was a sordid game: “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief . . .” Some had fat purses and jewellery, others had precious foodstuffs. A boy had his dog still leashed to him.

Renegade Ukrainians in German uniform were in charge of our operations in the shelters proper. They were roaring drunk from adjacent wine cellars and seemed to enjoy their job hugely. It was a profitable one, for they stripped each body of valuables before we carried it to the street. Death became so commonplace that we could joke about our dismal burdens and cast them about like so much garbage.

Not so with the first of them, especially the young: we had lifted them on to the stretchers with care, laying them out with some semblance of funeral dignity in their last resting place before the pyre. But our awed and sorrowful propriety gave way, as I said, to rank callousness. At the end of a grisly day, we would smoke and survey the impressive heap of dead accumulated. One of us flipped his cigarette butt into the pile: “Hell’s bells,” he said, “I’m ready for Death any time he wants to come after me.”

A few days after the raid, the sirens screamed again. The listless and heartsick survivors were showered this time with leaflets. I lost my copy of the epic, but remember that it ran something like this: “To the people of Dresden: we were forced to bomb your city because of the heavy military traffic your railroad facilities have been carrying. We realise that we haven’t always hit our objectives. Destruction of anything other than military objectives was unintentional, unavoidable fortunes of war.”

That explained the slaughter to everyone’s satisfaction, I am sure, but it aroused no little contempt. It is a fact that 48 hours after the last B-17 had droned west for a well-earned rest, labour battalions had swarmed over the damaged rail yards and restored them to nearly normal service. None of the rail bridges over the Elbe was knocked out of commission. Bomb-sight manufacturers should blush to know that their marvellous devices laid bombs down as much as three miles wide of what the military claimed to be aiming for.

The leaflet should have said: “We hit every blessed church, hospital, school, museum, theatre, your university, the zoo, and every apartment building in town, but we honestly weren’t trying hard to do it. C’est la guerre. So sorry. Besides, saturation bombing is all the rage these days, you know.”

There was tactical significance: stop the railroads. An excellent manoeuvre, no doubt, but the technique was horrible. The planes started kicking high explosives and incendiaries through their bomb-bays at the city limits, and for all the pattern their hits presented, they must have been briefed by a Ouija board.

Tabulate the loss against the gain. Over 100,000 noncombatants and a magnificent city destroyed by bombs dropped wide of the stated objectives: the railroads were knocked out for roughly two days. The Germans counted it the greatest loss of life suffered in any single raid. The death of Dresden was a bitter tragedy, needlessly and wilfully executed. The killing of children – “Jerry” children or “Jap” children, or whatever enemies the future may hold for us – can never be justified.

The facile reply to great groans such as mine is the most hateful of all clichés, “fortunes of war”, and another: “They asked for it. All they understand is force.”

Who asked for it? The only thing who understands is force? Believe me, it is not easy to rationalise the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets or helping a man dig where he thinks his wife may be buried.

Certainly, enemy military and industrial installations should have been blown flat, and woe unto those foolish enough to seek shelter near them. But the “Get Tough America” policy, the spirit of revenge, the approbation of all destruction and killing, have earned us a name for obscene brutality.

Our leaders had a carte blanche as to what they might or might not destroy. Their mission was to win the war as quickly as possible; and while they were admirably trained to do just that, their decisions on the fate of certain priceless world heirlooms – in one case, Dresden – were not always judicious. When, late in the war, with the Wehrmacht breaking up on all fronts, our planes were sent to destroy this last major city, I doubt if the question was asked: “How will this tragedy benefit us, and how will that benefit compare with the ill-effects in the long run?”

Dresden, a beautiful city, built in the art spirit, symbol of an admirable heritage, so antiNazi that Hitler visited it but twice during his whole reign, food and hospital centre so bitterly needed now – ploughed under and salt strewn in the furrows.

There can be no doubt that the allies fought on the side of right and the Germans and Japanese on the side of wrong. World war two was fought for near-holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous. That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of being an irrational war for war’s sake. Soft citizens of the American democracy had learnt to kick a man below the belt and make the bastard scream.

The occupying Russians, when they discovered that we were Americans, embraced us and congratulated us on the complete desolation our planes had wrought. We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the world’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on earth.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Give Me Liberty" by Naomi Wolf, introduction

The following is the introduction to Naomi Wolf's new book, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries, as printed at The Huffington Post, Sept. 16, 2008.

The summer before last, I traveled across the country talking about threats to our liberty. I spoke and listened to groups of Americans from all walks of life. They told me new and always harsher stories of state coercion.

What I had called a "fascist shift" in the United States, projections I had warned about as worst-case scenarios, was now surpassing my imagination: in 2008, thousands of terrified, shackled illegal immigrants were rounded up in the mass arrests which always characterize a closing society; news emerged that the 9/11 report had been based on evidence derived from the testimonies of prisoners who had been tortured -- and the tapes that documented their torture were missing -- leading the commissioners of the report publicly to disavow their own findings; the Associated Press reported that the torture of prisoners in U.S.-held facilities had not been the work of "a few bad apples" but had been directed out of the White House; the TSA "watch list," which had contained 45,000 names when I wrote my last book, ballooned to 755,000 names and 20,000 were being added every month; Scott McClellan confirmed that the drive to war in Iraq had been based on administration lies; HR 1955, legislation that would criminalize certain kinds of political thought and speech, passed the House and made it to the Senate; Blackwater, a violent paramilitary force not answerable to the people, established presences in Illinois and North Carolina and sought to get into border patrol activity in San Diego.

The White House has established, no matter who leads the nation in the future, U.S. government spying on the emails and phone calls of Americans -- a permanent violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The last step of the ten steps to a closed society is the subversion of the rule of law. That is happening now. What critics have called a "paper coup" has already taken place.

Yes, the situation is dire. But history shows that when an army of citizens, supported by even a vestige of civil society, believes in liberty -- in the psychological space that is "America" -- no power on earth can ultimately suppress them.

Dissident Natan Sharansky writes that there are two kinds of states -- "fear societies" and "free societies." Understood in this light, "America" -- the state of freedom that is under attack -- is first of all a place in the mind. That is what we must regain now to fight back.

The two societies make up two kinds of consciousness. The consciousness derived of oppression is despairing, fatalistic, and fearful of inquiry. It is mistrustful of the self and forced to trust external authority. It is premised on a dearth of self-respect. It is cramped. People around the world understand that this kind of inner experience is as toxic an environment as is a polluted waterway they are forced to drink from; it is as insufficient a space as being compelled to sleep in a one-room hut with seven other bodies on the floor.

In contrast, the consciousness of freedom -- the psychology of freedom that is "America" -- is one of expansiveness, trust of the self, and hope. It is a consciousness of limitless inquiry. "Everything," wrote Denis Diderot, who influenced, via Thomas Jefferson, the Revolutionary generation, "must be examined, everything must be shaken up, without exception and without circumspection." Jefferson wrote that American universities are "based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." Since this state of mind is self-trusting, it builds up in a citizen a wealth of self-respect. "Your own reason," wrote Jefferson to his nephew, "is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but the uprightness of the decision."

After my cross-country journey, I realized that I needed to go back and read about the original Revolutionaries of our nation. I realized in a new way from them that liberty is not a set of laws or a system of government; it is not a nation or a species of patriotism. Liberty is a state of mind before it is anything else. You can have a nation of wealth and power, but without this state of mind -- this psychological "America" -- you are living in a deadening consciousness; with this state of mind, you can be in a darkened cell waiting for your torturer to arrive and yet inhabit a chainless space as wide as the sky.

"America," too, is a state of mind. "Being an American" is a set of attitudes and actions, not a nationality or a posture of reflexive loyalty. This tribe of true "Americans" consists of people who have crossed a personal Rubicon of a specific kind and can no longer be satisfied with anything less than absolute liberty.

This state of mind, I learned, has no national boundaries. The Tibetans, who, as I write this, are marching in the face of Chinese soldiers, are acting like members of this tribe; so did the Pakistani lawyers who recently faced down house arrest and tear gas in their suits and judicial robes. Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry, and Ida B. Wells, who risked their lives for liberty, acted like "Americans." When the crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya insisted on reporting on war crimes in Chechnya, even though her informing her fellow citizens led -- as she knew it well could -- to her being gunned down on her doorstep as she went home to her fourteen-year-old daughter, she was acting like an American. When three JAG lawyers refused to sell out their detainee clients, they were being "Americans." When Vietnam vet David Antoon risked his career to speak out in favor of the Constitution's separation of church and state, he was being an "American." When journalist Josh Wolf went to jail rather than reveal a source, he was being an "American" too. Always, everywhere, the members of this tribe are fundamentally the same, in spite of the great deal that may divide them in terms of clothing and religion, language and culture. But when we quietly go about our business as our rights are plundered, when we yield to passivity and switch on the Wii and hand over our power to a leadership class that has no interest in our voice, we are not acting like true Americans. Indeed, at those moments we are essentially giving up our citizenship.

The notion that "American-ness" is a state of mind -- a rigorous psychodynamic process or a continued personal challenge, rather than a static point on a map or an impressive display in a Fourth of July parade -- is not new. But we are so used to being raised on a rhetoric of cheap patriotism -- the kind that you get to tune in to in a feel-good way just because you were lucky enough to have been born here and can then pretty much forget about -- that this definition seems positively exotic. The founders understood "American-ness" in this way, though, not at all in our way.

And today, I learned as I traveled, we are very far from experiencing this connection to our source. Many of us feel ourselves clouded within, cramped, baffled obscurely from without, not in alignment with the electric source that is liberty. So it is easy for us to rationalize always further and more aggressive cramping and clouding; is the government spying on us? Well...Okay...So now the telecommunications companies are asking for retroactive immunity for their spying on us? Well...Okay...Once a certain threshold of passivity has been crossed, it becomes easier and easier, as Benjamin Franklin warned, to trade liberty for a false security -- and deserve neither.

What struck me on my journey was how powerless so many Americans felt to make change. Many citizens I heard from felt more hopeless than did citizens of some of the poorest and youngest democracies on the planet. Others were angrier than ever and were speaking up and acting up with fervor. I felt that all of us -- the hopeless and the hopeful -- needed to reconnect to our mentors, the founders, and to remind ourselves of the blueprint for freedom they meant us to inherit. I wrote this handbook with the faith that if Americans take personal ownership of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they can push back any darkness. The first two sections of this refresher guide to our liberties recall what America is supposed to be; the last third is a practical how-to for citizen leadership for a new American Revolution.

There are concrete laws we must pass to restore liberty and actions we must take to safeguard it. You will find them in the last third of this handbook. But more crucial than any list of laws or actions is our own need to rediscover our role as American revolutionaries and to reclaim the "America" in ourselves -- in our consciousness as free men and women.

Do we have the right to see ourselves this way? Absolutely. Many histories of our nation's founding focus on a small group, "a band of brothers" or "the Founding Fathers" -- the handful of illustrious men whose names we all know. This tight focus tends to reinforce the idea that we are the lucky recipients of the American gift of liberty and of the republic, not ourselves its stewards, crafters, and defenders. It prepares us to think of ourselves as the led, not as the leaders.

But historians are also now documenting the stories of how in the pre-Revolutionary years, ordinary people -- farmers, free and enslaved Africans, washer-women, butchers, printers, apprentices, carpenters, penniless soldiers, artisans, wheelwrights, teachers, indentured servants -- were rising up against the king's representatives, debating the nature of liberty, fighting the war and following the warriors to support them, insisting on expanding the franchise, demanding the right to vote, compelling the more aristocratic leaders of the community to include them in deliberations about the nature of the state constitutions, and requiring transparency and accountability in the legislative process. Even enslaved Africans, those Americans most silenced by history, were not only debating in their own communities the implications or the ideas of God-given liberty that the white colonists were debating; they were also taking up arms against George III's men in hopes that the new republic would emancipate them. Some were petitioning state legislatures for their freedom; and others were even successfully bringing lawsuits against their owners, arguing in court for their inalienable rights as human beings. This is the revolutionary spirit that we must claim again for ourselves -- fast -- if we are to save the country.

When Abraham Lincoln said that our nation was "conceived in Liberty" he was not simply phrasemaking; our nation was literally "conceived" by Enlightenment ideas that were becoming more and more current, waking up greater and greater numbers of ordinary people, and finally bearing on our own founders, known and unknown, with ever-stronger pressure.

Key Enlightenment beliefs of the colonial era are these: human beings are perfectible; the right structures of society, at the heart of which is a representational government whose power derives from the consent of the governed, facilitate this continual evolution; reason is the means by which ordinary people can successfully rule themselves and attain liberty; the right to liberty is universal, God given, and part of a natural cosmic order, or "natural law"; as more and more people around the world claim their God-given right to liberty, tyranny and oppression will be pushed aside. It is worth reminding ourselves of these founding ideas at a time when they are under sustained attack.

The core ideals, the essence, of what the founders imperfectly glimpsed, are perfect. I am often asked how I can so champion the writing and accomplishments of the better-known founders. Most of them were, of course, propertied, white, and male. Critics on the left often point out their flaws in relation to the very ideals they put forward. John Adams was never comfortable with true citizen democracy. "Jefferson's writings about race reveal that he saw Africans as innately deficient in humanity and culture." When a male slave escaped from Benjamin Franklin in England, Franklin sold him back into slavery.

But the essence of the idea of liberty and equality that they codified -- an idea that was being debated and developed by men and women, black and white, of all classes in the pre-Revolutionary generation -- went further than such an idea had ever gone before. It is humanity's most radical blueprint for transformation.

More important, the idea itself carries within it the moral power to correct the contradictions in its execution that were obvious from the very birth of the new nation. An enslaved woman, Mum Bett, who became a housekeeper for the Sedgwick family of Massachussetts, successfully sued for her own emancipation using the language of the Declaration of Independence; decades later a slave, Dred Scott, argued that he was "entitled to his freedom" as a citizen and a resident of a free state. The first suffragists at the Seneca Falls Convention, intent on securing equal rights for women, used the framework of the Declaration of Independence to advance their cause. New democracies in developing nations around the world draw on our founding documents and government structure to ground their own hopes for freedom. The human beings at the helm of the new nation, whatever their limitations, were truly revolutionary. The theory of liberty born in that era, the seed of the idea, was, as I say, perfect. We should not look to other revolutions to inspire us; nothing is more transformative than our own revolution. We must neither oversentimentalize it, as the right tends to do, nor disdain it, as the left tends to do; rather we must reclaim it.

The stories I read and reread of the "spirit of 1776" led me with new faith to these conclusions: We are not to wait for others to lead. You and I are meant to take back the founders' mandate, and you and I are meant to lead. You and I must protest, you and I must confront our representatives, you and I must run for office, you and I must write the opeds, you and I must take over the battle. The founders -- the unknown as well as the well-known Americans who "conceived" the nation in liberty -- did not intend for us to delegate worrying about the Constitution to a cadre of constitutional scholars, or to leave debate to a class of professional pundits, or to leave the job of fighting for liberty to a caste of politicians. They meant for us to defend the Constitution, for us to debate the issues of the day, and for us to rise up against tyranny: the American who delivers the mail; the American who teaches our children; ordinary people.

In my reading, I went back as if to contact our mentors. I looked for practical advice and moral support from those who had stood up for the ideal.We need a strategy for a new American uprising against those who would suppress our rights; we need what Lincoln would have called "a new birth of freedom." As readers of Tom Paine's Common Sense had to realize, we are not declaring war on an oppressor -- rather, we have to realize that the war has already, quietly, systemically, been declared against us.

Today we have most of our rights still codified on paper -- but these documents are indeed "only paper" if we no longer experience them viscerally, if their violation no longer infuriates us. We can be citizens of a republic; we can have a Constitution and a Congress; but if we, the people, have fallen asleep to the meaning of the Constitution and to the radical implications of representative and direct democracy, then we aren't really Americans anymore.

So we must listen to the original revolutionaries and to current ones as well, and explain their ideas clearly to new generations. To hear the voices of the original vision and the voices of those modern heroes, here in the U.S. and around the world, who are true heirs to the American Revolution is to feel your wishes change. "[Freedom] liberated us the day we stopped living in a world where 'truth' and 'falsehood' were, like everything else, the property of the State. And for the most part, this liberation did not stop when we were sentenced to prison," wrote Sharansky. "I was not born to be forced," wrote Henry David Thoreau. "I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest...they only can force me to obey a higher law than I." You want to stay in that room where these revolutionaries are conversing in this electrifying way among themselves. It feels painful but ultimately cleansing and energizing. You want to be more like them; then you realize that maybe you can be -- then finally you realize that you already are.

Our "America," our Constitution, our dream, when properly felt within us, does more than "defend freedom." It clears space to build the society that allows for the highest possible development of who we ourselves personally were meant to be.

We have to rise up in self-defense and legitimate rebellion. We need more drastic action than e-mails to Congress.

We need the next revolution.


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