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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Emblems of Activism:

Having the Balls to Carry the Banner

There is a banner, tattered by the bombs of war, shredded by the sand-sweeping winds of time. It's face has borne words like "Don't Tread On Me," "Spirit of '76," and "Semper Fi," and symbols like the ecology theta and the peace sign, and yes, spangled stars and stripes.

These emblems of activism can be seen everywhere, on t-shirts and lunch pails, on car bumpers and school notebooks, on mailboxes and even underwear and toilet paper. Their ubiquitousness says more about the way they regard them than what the symbols on flags themselves represent.

Banners are only a metaphor, imbued with a combination of whatever meaning their creators expressed and whatever belief those who regard them can understand. That's what made Joe Rosenthal's famous photo of U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima so powerful. It's not just a message; it's a medium.

Imagine the flag as a thought or a principle or a belief created to reach people and be seen. We do that by tying it to the top of a flagpole. The pole is the exclamation point, a declaration of that belief. More people see it now that it's on a pole. Like hurricane warning flags, it communicates its intended message. That's fine for those who are close enough to see the banner, but what about those who are too far away to see it? We broadcast a flag in three ways.

One is by building a taller flag pole and proportionally enlarging the banner, but then the increased audience is limited by its understanding because although they may be able to see the banner, they may not be close enough hear its imagery defined. Plus, even a gargantuan flag on a Babel size pole can only reach a certain distance before it disappears below the horizon.

The second way to broadcast the flags meaning is to make lots of little flags on little poles and scatter them like grass seeds to the corners of the globe. Well, whatever part of the message isn't filtered out by the communities, families and individuals where they end up will, at least, get out there. But all those baby symbols are merely representations of the primary flag, and meant to inspire through facsimile. Just as the Jesus-on-the-Cross in a church is not Jesus himself, but meant to represent people's belief in the meaning of his death, so too these little flags are representations of the original thought or belief. To borrow another religious example, Haj and other pilgrimages are embarked on as a recognition that the power is in the original manifestation of the ideal.

Third (and this is the one I like the best), you can pick up the banner, carry it from town to town, and say, "If this speaks to you, then follow me." And that, dear readers, is ACTIVISM. Whoever carries the banner is responsible for spreading the message with which it is imbued. Their commitment to that message is what keeps that flag up, and holding the flag up re-enforces the message. (Think Cindy Sheehan.)

Now, the problem comes when the flag carried through the wilderness to arouse the people's faith is planted in the promised land of Washington, DC, as if to declare, "It is done!" That seems to me what is going on today. It's the Democrat's version of "Mission Accomplished," but without the aircraft carrier and W's symbolic flight suit landing. We have done nothing. Nothing is over. This is not a plateau; it is a step. We need our leaders to pick up the dang flag and carry the message everywhere and always.

By the way, the flagpole I carry has the stars & stripes, the peace sign and the Prose and Thorn logo. You better believe it!


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Hole in the Ice: Lessons from a Flailing Dog's Persistence

The conviction of Scooter Libby is just another crack in the ice. Though bold in its freshness, there is a danger that its impact will eventually be lost in the spiderweb of damage that has broken the thinly veiled surface of lies of this corrupt administration. The maze we have to untangle is mind boggling, and they like it that way.

Today we are challenged to break the ice apart before the cracks re-freeze and bury the clear waters of truth beneath a scarred legacy that will leave us forever weakened. We must keep throwing stones at the flat wall of ice until they skip across truth's transparent surface.

Like the dog that was rescued from the frozen lake in Colorado recently, Tuesday's determined flailing-for-truth punched a big hole that we must persistently hit to keep open. The dog's name was Pearl. The dogs in our fight yesterday were the Federal Jury that convicted Scooter and the US Senate Judiciary Committee that is investigating the unusual firings of five US attorneys following the elections last year.

For the Libby jury, the biggest break in the ice may have come after the conviction, when juror Denis Collins told the press, "It was said a number of times, 'What are we doing with this guy here? Where's Rove? Where are the other guys?' "

This pointed question turned the public's finger right back around to the White House. Its semi-rhetorical tone managed to turn the administration's "fall guy" into just a symptom of criminal corruption that the jury publicly acknowledged it believes goes much higher.

For the five former US attorneys in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the ice was broken because, in part, of a small hole created by an unnamed Justice Department official who emailed one of the attorneys, warning them that the DOJ would "pull their gloves off and offer public criticisms" of the fired attorneys if they spoke publicly about their suspicious firings. One of the attorneys called it "a shot across the bow."

While the Attorney General's folks deny that any were fired for anything except cause, all five received glowing evaluations in the weeks preceding their firings. One was fired to make room for a Karl Rove employee. Carol Lam, the US attorney in San Diego, was fired after her rigorous pursuit of the Randy "Duke" Cunningham corruption case, even though she was told when she was appointed, in the wake of Enron, to pursue white collar criminals.

Another attorney, David Iglesias of New Mexico, was fired after refusing to release sealed indictments against Democrats before last year's congressional election. He testified that when he told Sen. Pete Domenici that he wouldn't file the indictments before the election, the senator told him, "Sorry to hear that," and hung up.

So now it's time to get those ice picks, stones and bricks and whack away at a shattered ice pack of lies until we see truth again. Then, like Pearl the dog, we must get in the ice and flail, because in this, the people are the police, and though we may undo the damage of some megalomaniacal Republicans, we must be vigilant, lest the pendulum of corruption swing too easily the other way, and we end up switching red ice for blue.