Thursday, August 7, 2008

Steve Fournier on Hiroshima bombing's 63rd anniversary

Remarks of Stephen Fournier on August 6, 2008, at Riverside Park, Hartford, at Connecticut's annual commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima:

Our descent as a nation into a pit of violence and lawlessness suggests to many of us that Americans are scum. We seem to have learned no lesson from events like the one we commemorate today, and we seem to be unmoved by the most atrocious instances of inhumanity and injustice.

Are we, as our media suggest, a people who crave exhibitions of violence? How is it that our casinos are humming even as our schools turn out illiterates? That we wage war against some of the poorest, humblest populations on earth, and then shun all news about the resulting bloodshed? When our leaders say "Everything is on the table," including atomic bombs, what keeps us from flooding the streets?

And what should we think of a crowd like this one? Each year, things get worse, and each year we turn out the usual suspects for this event. Our fury grows, but our numbers don't, and this tells us that nobody's listening, or maybe that we're not hoping loud enough.

I'd like to challenge the idea that Americans aren't in the streets and aren't writing their members of Congress and aren't here today because they're stupid or irresponsible. What I'm discovering, as a candidate for public office with a license to talk to strangers, is a consensus among ordinary people that national moorings have been cut by government. The people I've been talking to reveal a silent but desperate struggle to find something on the trashed social landscape to hang on to. They are learning that their leaders are crooks. They sense a catastrophe ahead, with a loss of income, property, health, even the necessities of life. For the long term, they grieve quietly over the society that seems to loom for their grandchildren. And they agree that government officials have acted with utmost cowardice, pretending that things are fine and in every way driving us in the direction we've been going, despite our pleas.

The people I've been talking to don't know what to believe. They don't worry about nuclear catastrophe, because they don't know for certain whether they should be worried about such things. They live in a world not of facts, but of competing notions. It's not a fact that species evolved over millions of years, but a theory. It's a not a fact that fuel-burning is toxic, but a matter of scientific opinion. It's not a fact that drowning a prisoner is torture, but a legal conundrum that depends on other circumstances. We are left to pick and choose what to believe, and this keeps us confused and alienated from each other and makes us easier to manipulate.

The people I've been talking to feel compelled to deny the worst. The criminals who govern us have injured our earth, damaged our republic, put us in mortal danger, and we seem to be unaware of our dire situation. Witnesses to an atrocity, we turn away because we feel unable to act.

The people I've been talking to are afraid. Afraid to dissent and afraid to look powerless and foolish. Should they turn out for an anti-war rally with a handful of people, to be photographed and herded into free speech zones where their grievances bounce around among themselves? A stranger calls on the phone and asks their political opinions, and they don't know who it is or who will hear their responses. They do know that they're being spied on, and so they say what they think everyone else is saying. The interviewer might ask "Are you in favor of this or that policy of government?" but what they hear is "Do you support the president or are you a traitor?"

We're told that enemies are in our midst, and our biggest fear is not that any of the million or so terrorists out there will do us any harm but that we will be counted among them. And so we take off our shoes in the airport and buy newspapers that lie to us and pretend to support the troops and stay away from gatherings like this one. It's not that people are apathetic or complacent. They're damaged and discouraged.

I'm not suggesting that everybody agrees with us, but I'm finding that ordinary people are a hell of lot better citizens than we've been led to believe. Silent majorities like the people I've been talking to may not readily align themselves with groups or movements, but there is a tacit determination among them to try to do what's best for future generations. That's what we're doing here today, and each of us speaks for legions of fearful, politically chilled, misinformed neighbors who simply want their children's children to be able to say, "Grandma and Grandpa tried. "