Who Are We?

A few weeks ago, a friend shared an essay from the Philadelphia Magazine that I’ve now reread more than once. It was all about bravery in times of American crisis--not, as the author explained, the personal courage that people display running into burning buildings and in similar exploits, but civic bravery, which she describes as

directly related to being a citizen, and it requires both personal courage and a bigger-picture, idealistic, long-game sort of mind-set. That strain of bravery, birthed in Philly in 1776, is what Americans both great and unknown would tap into in years to come, and what propelled most everything we think of as progress in this country: women’s suffrage, the New Deal, the Freedom Riders and so forth.

The article goes on to hone in on an aspect of American society that has been the focus of much punditry, not to mention a number of comments to this blog–the pervasiveness of an unbecoming fear that is both self-serving and disproportionate to the objects that trigger it:

The troublesome part about all of this is that so many of us seem unable or unwilling nowadays to accept fear as part of being alive in tumultuous times, or to push for the greater good despite personal risk (or perceived personal risk) the way our best countrymen have through the ages. How else to explain why our elected politicians can’t get past reelection concerns to pass even the basic gun legislation when most Americans clamor for it? Why else are so many unarmed young black men, one after the next after the next, dying at the hands of police officers? How to reconcile otherwise compassionate, charitable people scared to welcome refugees fleeing certain death (yearning to breathe free, just like your great-grandparents)?

After quoting former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski for the proposition that fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and paves the way for demagogues, she says the obvious: “Hey Mr. Brzezinski, meet Mr. Trump.”

The essay ends on a hopeful note, citing signs that might portend a revival of civic bravery. Some–like substituting Harriet Tubman for Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill–don’t seem particularly brave to me, but at a time when the Presidential candidate of a major American political party has enabled and normalized bigotry (with, it must be noted, the enthusiastic approval of a majority of that party’s members), Black Lives Matter certainly fits the bill. As she notes,

The time I spent writing this overlapped with the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers, followed by a sniper attack that killed five officers guarding otherwise peaceful protests. It seems there is no end to the fear and the hateful fruit it bears. But then: Black Lives Matter, a movement started mostly by millennials, is gaining momentum across all generations. This movement begun by blacks is roiling across races, as more people are finding that the essential nubs — life, liberty, innocents not being shot to death, not allowing fear to ruin lives — are too important to ignore. The movement is facing down threats, counter-protesters, online vitriol, death. But it goes on. Think of that photo from the Baton Rouge protests a few months back: a young black woman, a calm protester, standing wordless and serene in the street, surrounded by faceless police in riot gear. No puppies. No bubbles. Civil Bravery circa 2016, it turns out, looks an awful lot like Civil Bravery circa 1965.

The entire essay is worth a read–and some sober consideration.


  1. Meanwhile militarized local law enforcement officers and private security guards use dogs, pepper spray and mace against peaceful, praying Protestors at Standing Rock at the behest of our Corporatocracy which continues to promote the burning of fossil fuels rather than join the band wagon of green, clean energy produced by solar and wind.

  2. What we lack from our political scene are transformational leaders, but this requires truth seeking. Let’s be clear, our founders knew that if us citizens weren’t diligent, we’d lose the republic they were forming. They created a “free and independent press” to hold the powerful accountable. Holding power at bay was their task when they designed the constitution, so everything was designed with checks and balances.

    Our public sector is now owned by Oligarchs influenced by lobbyists. The free press was bought by our entertainment complex and is used by the Oligarchs to communicate to the masses.

    The problem…it’s all bullshit. It’s nothing but propaganda, or public relations. Most of the faux solutions are bullshit because they don’t address the real problem.

    The problem is we don’t look anything like what our constitutional founders wrote. Heck, Albert Einstein told us in the 40’s that Oligarchs own the country and use their institutions (press, universities, etc.) to shape the society they want.

    Because the Oligarchs (Wall Street) own this country, our body politics (right-left) needs to be replaced by a class structure from top to bottom. It’s a hierarchical system. Those with money make the rules and then dispense the power on down the lines to disseminate the power to carry out the rules.

    The solution – put more power in the hands of the people. In other words, Bernie Sanders was closer to the solution we needed and it’s why he was supported, en masse, by the younger more informed populations.

    Until we agree on the problem, there are NO viable solutions.

  3. The founding fathers gave us both the authority and the tool to effect change. The authority is the Constitution. The tool is the vote. Over time we have expanded the vote to a broader segment of society. As we have matured as a country, we have become complacent as citizens. Those who do not vote are voluntarily giving up their rights, but they are also making it harder for the rest of us to bring about needed change. If everybody participated, it would be harder for that little group of right winged extremists to control both the Republican Party and, by virtue of that control, the House of Representatives.

    Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, I have watched many pundits stand up and say in response, “All lives matter.” While I agree that all lives matter, I find it appalling that only black lives seem to be at risk, not just from crime, but also from their own public servants, the police. We don’t seem to need to be reminded that the rest of us matter, but we most emphatically do need to be reminded that black people do, too.

  4. Thanks Sheila!

    I’m printing it our right now. As someone who has kept his nose stuck in history books all his life this has been a growing concern of mine for a host of reasons. Just wonder what good old Zbig says to his friends about “The Donald” – I can only imagine but I sure wish I was there to hear it!!

    Thanks again!!!

  5. It started with Ronnie’s “government is not the solution” was amplified by Rush’s blather peaked with the Tea Party and is now ending in a big orange explosion.

    Good riddance.

  6. Great article. But 2016 is not the 60’s. Now we’re dealing with fascism. There’s a difference between Jim Crow and fascism, even though it’s hard for African-Americans to see the difference, but it’s significant.

    Two days after George Bush won the election for President in 1999, I had a very long telephone conversation with Dennis Hayes, Chief Counsel for the NAACP, who later became the NAACP President. I warned him that Bush would take the country toward fascism. Hayes response was as I remember, “I know Marvin, but we have always faced fascism.” I’ve always regretted that I failed to have the proper response to his answer. I should have explained, “No you haven’t. In the 60’s, America had two systems: one for African-Americans called Jim Crow, the other, for basically the rest of the country, called Democracy. And with George Bush that dual system will undergo a fundamental change, the majority status quo system called democracy will undergo an eclipse by the Jim Crow system. And if it continues there will be a total eclipse called: FASCISM.”

    Before he was elected, Barack Obama failed to see the change. I warned in “The Nation Magazine”, six months before he was elected, that he would hit an “iceberg.” And he did. It was called the Tea Party.” The change was operating sub-surface and the effects couldn’t be effectively calculated by someone who only lived in Hawaii, Oakland, Cambridge, or Chicago.

    We’re very close to a total eclipse. That make for a totally different environment than the 60’s. Marching is no longer the answer. As I have said before, we better wake up and, as the article in the “Philadelphian” emphasized, get past our fears…..time is running out.

    We only have two weeks to STARTfacing the truth. I predict, after the election, it will be too difficult to START, no matter who wins. “Patterns don’t lie.”

  7. Sorry I missed you…..thought I might get to meet you at the Paul Chase Prize award ceremony on 10/23/16. Next time.

  8. What, adjusted for the times, is the difference between our oligarchic-ownership of today and a royal ownership of former days when royal charters were issued to the likes of East India Tea to exclusive trade with the British colony of India (a front, of course, for a piece of the action payable to the Crown)? It took a Gandhi to unmask such perfidy, among others, just as it took an FDR to unmask and repair the structural and grievous damage done to this country and its people by status quo and “let the market decide” Republicans who gave us the Great Depression of the 1930s. If you substitute Wall Street for a king or queen, ignore anti-trust laws and refuse to meaningfully regulate the activities of the corporate and financial sectors of our economy, then I think the result defines a form of domestic colonialism a la East India Tea, a system where “the market” with the help of craven politicians “decides” from time to time to starve and otherwise mistreat ordinary Americans. Voting power and pretended embraces of democracy mean little to nothing if those elected do not truly represent the people who voted for them in favor of selling their souls to the oligarchs, so any reform plainly requires a change in legislative personnel. Let’s elect real “representatives,” not sellouts, in this upcoming election.

  9. The upcoming anthropocene era will tax our capabilities to their limit. We have some house cleaning to do in order to prepare. This election is a necessary but insufficient step. The challanges will continue unabated certainly over our lifetimes.

    Our species has always sorted itself into problem solvers and victims. We all have a role to play and will choose.


    The following is from the Home page of the Koch Brothers site: Kochind.com

    “Our cause: One free society for all.

    To millions of Americans, the words “Koch brothers” and “political activism” go hand-in-hand. And for good reason.

    Koch Industries is not aligned with a single political party. Instead, we are unapologetic advocates for the principles of a free society. These include dignity, respect, tolerance, equality before the law, free speech, free markets and individual autonomy.

    Sadly, decades of misguided policies have eroded these basic human rights. This has created a two-tier society that gives unfair advantages to the financially privileged and politically connected few. While failing our most vulnerable and holding back entrepreneurs from reaching their extraordinary potential.

    The way we see it, our society should be free. Opportunity must be for all, not just the few. That’s why we continuously strive to reform and reestablish these fundamental principles.”


  11. Marv; the Koch brothers ARE Big Brother and they ARE watching.

    We are Who they are watching.

  12. JoAnn,

    “Marv; the Koch brothers ARE Big Brother and they ARE watching

    “We are Who they are watching.”

    Better believe it. My websites are all monitored. I know where all my visitors are coming from.

    Their deception and TRUMP’S POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT remind me of the sign over the entrance to Auschwitz which read: “Work will make you FREE.” Wishful thinking can be a very dangerous thing. The Jews learned it the hard way. Are we any different? My experiences say NO.

  13. I am scared for my country, my children my grandchildren. Though not as eloquent as other commentators, I also have a story to tell.
    I am an immigrant with a perfect American accent, having moved from Denmark to USA (California) as a child of 8. It was 1960, a time of strong anti-communist rhetoric and hatred. With my unusual name, lack of English (at first) and different mannerisms, I became a target, a wound that should have healed long ago, yet one which has been re-opened with the horrific hatred spewed at people these last few years.
    I really do not know what to do or say any longer. I have contributed as much or more to our society as these people who want all “foreigners” out of the country. I voted already, my right as a naturalized citizen, I believe in voting rights, yet if the orange guy wins, I have no idea what I will do.
    I no longer feel safe.

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