The Road Ahead

My first lessons about living under occupation came from Victor Lazlo. Victor Lazlo, Jean Matrac, Kurt Muller and Albert Lory (who was secretly in love with Maureen O’Hara, but then weren’t we all?). These were characters in the films that portrayed resistance to fascism with the cloying glow of cinematic courage and unquestioning resolve. Each 90+ minute drama, filmed appropriately in black and white, was unencumbered by the exploration of ethical shades of grey, and players had the luxury of moral certitude. “You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing we will die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.” the man said. Collaborators, both petty and grand, were totally depraved, and even those whose actions were driven by need for survival were never excused or forgiven. Choose death or be deservingly consigned to the carnaval laid.

My adolescent admiration of cinematic resistance to tyranny inevitably proved insufficient to address real world actions undertaken by nations (especially my own) and groups within nations that resulted in savage injustice. Upon reflection, there seems an almost unbroken line of such aggressions. Armed with passionate commitment born of black and white thinking, I marched and chanted, angry and insistent. The songs of protest, sung so often, still have a right to residence in my thinking.

Deep in my heart, I do believe…

Hey, Hey LBJ…

The whole world is watching

This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio…

Stop children, what’s that sound? Everybody look…

Eventually, I learned that tyrants can’t last forever and that the work left to ordinary folk, like towns hit by tornados, is primarily clean up and start again. And yes, there are always those destroyed in the meantime: the martyrs for justice and righteousness who died or whose families or relationships or finances or good names were forever broken as the juggernaut of uncritical certitude plowed forward. But I also learned that tyrants and demagogues arise only because there is something dark and inexplicably urgent in the human heart that makes room for their emergence, hopeful that they will eliminate those we fear or restore that which is familiar by means that we would rather overlook.

But demagogues only emerge when the times provide an opening (it is said that after Jesus successfully navigated the temptation in the wilderness, the Devil left him for a more opportune time). In the same way that the body human succumbs to dysfunction when its fundamental needs are neglected in favor of sloth and malnourishment, the body politic has become flabby and uncritical, susceptible to partisanship and adversarial interchange. Only in a culture of corporate avarice whose primary purpose is to seduce with the newest, shiniest, sparkliest (all of which could be yours!) could a morally compromised huckster with a taste for glitz and kitsch gain an audience.

To be honest, part of my emotional response is to revert to those first learnings about living in times of occupation – to take an extreme stance and insist on the dismemberment of the occupying force at all costs. But our times are not simple, and our government, while not the choice of the people, nonetheless reflects the beliefs and aspirations of a segment of our society. Surprisingly, those whose trucks and homes and lives are covered in rust, whose jobs have disappeared, whose dreams have dissipated in the volatility of global economics, who feel displaced in a world that is changing faster than their ability to adapt nonetheless look to the very sector that denuded them for their salvation. They may feel represented. I do not. Further, I feel that it is my obligation as a citizen to resist the nature and character of executive actions that have been taken in the fledgling days of this administration. It is apparent that I am not alone.

But I have learned that the simplistic cinematic depiction of resistance I thrilled to as an adolescent is no resistance at all, only a post hoc imagining of what we would like to have been as a people. If, ten years hence, we hope to be proud of our response to current times, we must embark on a particularly steep learning curve, one that will be costly and unquestionably difficult. It may, for some, involve more marching with new chants and insistent songs. For others, it will necessitate engaging every peaceable measure available to raise opposing voices and proclaim, like the residents of Whoville “We are here!” Yet others will join hands in solidarity with those targeted for blame and elimination. For the responsible and discerning citizen it will entail a daily and active response to the potential threats to our common values, fought for and hard won at the cost of countless lives and fortunes. It will insist on the abandonment of participatory indolence and civic apathy which has provided quarter to those who depend on the inertia of the citizenry. It will demand the replacement of our desire for comfort and leisure with the challenging behaviors that promote mutual forbearance and equitable and readily available citizenship.

These are the actions and attitudes of successful resistance to pedagogy and authoritarianism wherever it is found. When embraced and enacted with courage for the implementation of liberty and justice for all people, true greatness is achieved.