September 11, 2002: Reflections from a Year's Distance
Sunday, September 8 2002, 2:49 PM
I don't think this is going to qualify as a rant, exactly. Though I might be wrong. What it isn't going to be, though, is a paean to my country, a demonstration of how patriotic I am, or how September 11, 2001 changed my life emotionally. Because the short answer is that it didn't change me emotionally. I've lived with terrorism before. While the grand scale of the destruction of the World Trace Center hasn't been met by my personal experience, I know what it's like to wonder whether the trash can on your corner is going to blow up, or whether the restaurant you're dining in will be flambé before dessert. I've lived knowing where the nearest bomb shelter was, and when I first starting spending time in San Francisco, it took me months before the Tuesday sirens didn't send me under my desk.
What has changed in my life since last September 11 is the numbers of day-to-day challenges to my way of life that scare the crap out of me. I'm watching a dubiously elected president declare that he has the right to suspend my rights during war time without a declaration of war; I'm watching the judiciary, who may well have elected that president, become puppets to the administration; I'm watching prisoners lose their rights to counsel; and I'm watching public social welfare monies, paid for by my tax dollars, go to religious charities whose charters mandate the immorality of my very existence. I'm watching a group of inarticulate, suspicious, deceitful men insist that in order to preserve my freedoms, they must, without adequate justification, foreclose on the freedoms of others around the world, no matter what either their citizenry, or the rest of the world have to say about that matter. And I'm watching the FBI -- which I don't think capable on good days of taking care of their current mandate -- get the power to do legally what they did illegally in the 1960s: wiretap and interfere with the lives of people who have the audacity to disagree with the current administration.
I disagree with the current administration. It's my right as a citizen of this country not only to disagree with them, but also to say so out loud, and with impunity. I'll pull out the Constitution and prove it to anyone who says otherwise. Or to remind those who back last September thought it was more important that we "stand together" than that we maintain the rights that make it possible for this country to be the place everyone appears to be so jealous of. You remember: that freedom stuff we have that they all are supposed to hate us so much for. Seems to me that those freedoms are at risk from precisely those peoples we elected to protect them, not from a terrorist attack that never struck me as an attack on freedom in the first place.
I don't fly a flag. Never have. Haven't burned one either, though I have considered it at times. I didn't say "under God" as a child saying the pledge in school. But then when I've been sworn in to testify in court I don't swear to God then either. I take the notary's oath to tell the truth. Does this mean I don't believe in the experiment known as the United States? Of course not. I believe in it deeply. I simply see no reason to advertise it. I come by this honestly, quite frankly. A few days after the 11th, my father managed to keep a flag sticker on his car for the distance from the gas station to his garage, at which point he removed it stating he felt no need to declare his patriotism generally. He's served his country in the army, voted in every election since he was 21, and pays his taxes: that was enough.
But of course, after the events of last September, it wasn't enough. I got hassled at work for not having a flag at my desk; I got hassled on the road for not having a flag on my car; I got hassled at home for not flying a flag on my front door. The last time I was bothered at work about my patriotism, I pulled out my voter registration card and demanded to see the other guy's. He walked away muttering under his breath, but he never did show me one.
So tell me, is it more patriotic to vote, or to wave a flag?
Of course, for all of my skepticism following 9-11, I find I continue to believe in the Declaration of Independence, that treasonous document that formed the basis for my country. Thomas Jefferson's words really are radical. They're so radical I don't honestly believe that most American citizens would be willing to risk their lives and sign their names to them again today:
"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, [...] when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. "
Personally, I'd sign. Because the fact is that the principles that form this country are worth taking a stand about. And while I'd hope that the way to change the current government will be to vote them out of office and have them leave peaceably, I'll be willing to sign my name in letters as high as John Hancock's to a new Declaration, should the need become evident. It is, after all, my right to do so.
Cynthia Hoffman is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective