When I think of progress, I think of Quakers risking their lives to transport slaves across to freedom, I think of union organizers in the first decades of the Twentieth Century who risked physical harm and political persecution by going down into the backwoods of the South and Appalachian country to organize workers, I think of the teachers who risked loss of employment and jail terms to participate in the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s- people who defied the social order in order to make life better for their fellow human beings.
It seems in times of crisis, there are always those who are moved by the energy caused by the frenzy to do good. These are the elements that I find necessary to progress. In recent years, it has been hard to keep faith in progress, with a multitude of shouts for war and the growing boldness and arrogance with which the current administration is trampling over our rights. It seems that any real meaning of progress has gone into hibernation and left us to the wolves.
As the one year anniversary of September 11th approaches, I think back to that day which I remember with great clarity. I was beginning my junior year of college and I had wakened early so that I could make it to my eight o’clock class, Biology-- a class that I dreaded, but survived because the teacher was a delight to be around. I also wanted to be fresh for my second class of the day, Milton-- a class that I enjoyed , but approached tepidly, as it was the one class in which I was confronted two times a week with my dying pangs of lovesickness as I came face to face with the pale faced boy with black curls that I had been infatuated with for the two previous semesters, but for whom those feelings were no longer there.
As I grudgingly began to climb the three flights of stairs that would take me to the classroom in which my Milton seminar was taught, I was stopped by the frantic wailing of one of my classmates who was descending the staircase as I began to go up, who explained to me gravely, tears staining her cheeks and dampening the auburn curls that fell in her face, “Our nation is under attack.” Thinking the girl ludicrous- this couldn’t possibly be right, the poor child’s gone berserk- I, relieved temporarily at least of the burden of climbing the stairs to the third floor, turned and started walking towards the front entrance.
It was then that I saw my professor, who was also the Dean of Students, walking towards me without book or briefcase, at which point I asked him, “ Dr. ____ are we having class today?” Having answered in the negative, I gleefully left the building and returned to my single, private room on the other side of campus where I immediately turned on my television which confirmed what my distraught classmate had said; that two hijacked planes had demolished the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third had taken out part of the Pentagon.
I stop here to consider the significance of these acts and the ways in which they have been interpreted. I thought, and think now of the significance of 19 men- not diplomats, or dignitaries, or government officials, but plain, ordinary men trained and indoctrinated in the teachings of the Al-Queda network, boarding three different planes and proceeding to wreck the daily prominence and supreme authority of the largest economic power in the world. Wow. It transcends the scope of the imagination that these men could cause the stock market to plunge with no relief in sight, record unemployment, and a schizophrenic government that issued almost daily terror alerts in the face of unknown enemies and anthrax scares which brought psychic turmoil in this country back to levels reached during the darkest days of the Cold War. Wow. And to think that these ordinary men could penetrate the United States’ protective shield to commit these acts, to indeed attack the Pentagon itself- the core of US military operation and one of the most vital symbols of US imperialistic might. Wow.
Now, I am not here to either glorify or condemn these men- I will leave their fates to judgment of history, although it is my prediction that their names will be forgotten in light of the larger scope of things. Yet, the significance of their actions is quite real and puts things into a clearer perspective; namely that the United States is not invincible. Neither are the inhabitants of this country. Especially considering that the Justice Department, with John Ashcroft at the helm, has fashioned itself in the style of its years under J. Edgar Hoover, with secret wiretaps and illegal surveillances, as well as infringements on the protections guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. Not to mention the rights of the political prisoners held by the US government which are being violated flagrantly in a total lack of respect for international law.
This leaves the ordinary citizens of the United States vulnerable to the repression and terror imposed by the U.S. government- the threat of overturning Posse Commitatus, the virtual eradication of our basic rights, our loss of privacy, and who knows, we may face another mass disenfranchisement as seen in the last presidential election. Not only that, but we may once more have to pay with our own lives for the crimes of the government that we support and that represents us. And we are culpable. Yet we do have a chance for redemption.
History and scientific knowledge teach us that everything that rises must fall. In relation to empires, the terrorization of three quarters of the globe and the alienation of international sentiment can hasten that process. This is the course on which I see the United States headed; and it is a fate that is reserved for the most dazzling, yet the most indiscreet of empires. The Roman empire comes to mind.
The media, the government, and the public at large are quick to throw around the word terrorist, damning the men who acted on 9/11 and those who support them in sure and quick measures. Yet, was it not terror and the long-suffering caused by the United States that forms the groundswell of support for the organizations that carry out such acts? It was my sincere hope after September 11th that the United States would stop and learn from this tragedy. That it would learn how to walk a better path through the world, one of inspiring dignity, integrity, and hope. I was disappointed. Alas, the United States also fails to take a lesson from history. Did not the Romans fall to a band of barbarians who were generally looked upon as terrorists as well?
I would hope that this country would learn that it is better to walk with a sense of humility and a sincere respect for the broader range of humanity, not just for Americans. And that means relieving the people of Southeast Asia who slave away in your textile industries for less than a dollar a day. That means stop supporting imperialistic monsters like Israel (modeled in the shape of its benefactor) by providing the weapons and money that oppress and deny the humanity of Palestinians. That means funding no more wars in Central and South America. That means ceasing to imprison, disenfranchise, and commit genocide in minority communities within your own borders.
My hopes are still alive. It takes a crisis to turn the wheels of progress. Needless to say, on that fateful day which brought about such grief and devastation, I felt hope.
Friday, February 14, 2003
Thursday, February 13, 2003
This is the first attempt at blogging by Julius Gray. The purpose of this blog is to allow me a forum in which I can voice and publish my opinions about the world, life in general, and whatever cultural, historical, or political topics that I may wish to comment on. I will start now by introducing myself. I am a 22-year-old writer, historian, recent college graduate possessing of a great intellectual curiosity, a deep penchant and understanding of the political. I am ideologically a socialist, a student of W.E.B. DuBois, and I thrive on creativity and imagination. I am currently awaiting replies from graduate schools, hoping to enter a graduate program in Ethnic studies (or Comparative Lit) within the next few months. I am a devoted Barbra Streisand fan, and hold among the people I admire and wish to emulate such figures as Angela Davis, Jane Fonda, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, among others. As I add to this page, I hope that the commentary and the insights that I bring to light will be inspiring and will spark conversation and thought.
Posted by Brandon at 1:31 PM