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The Tree: Liberty & Antiwar Activists

I fear the tree of liberty is irrevocably damaged.

by Rosalie Riegle

On Friday, my ancient tree was hit by lightning. It had stood tall at the top of the slope leading to the lake, a beacon toward shore since 1945, when my parents purchased this tiny cottage on Artesia Beach in St. Helen, Michigan. The lightning flung heavy shards of bark, the trunk flash-burned for tiny seconds, and then the bolt found the run-off from the artesian well and buried itself in the ground.

Huge streaks of torn bark mar the stately pine. The Roscommon County forest service says it has suffered internal damage and will most likely die within a few years. Meanwhile it will stand, trying to smooth over the ugly raw gashes in its bark, struggling to live with a death-blow to its core.

On Friday, we learned that the FBI had, once again, struck at peace and justice activists, showing, with the loud crack of raids and subpoenas, that anyone who supports a nation or a policy with which our government disagrees, can be investigated and taken to a secret grand jury as giving “material aid to terrorists.”

Many activists I know, including Tom Burke of the Colombia Action Network—one of those subpoenaed to the Chicago grand jury—are working unceasingly to expose this lightning strike, to use it to galvanize people of conscience across the United States, to call us to resist this strike at our constitutional right to free speech.

But I fear the tree of liberty is irrevocably damaged. Yes, it will live, probably as long as I will at age 73, just as the stately storm-decimated pine in front of my cabin will live for some years. Even if hollowed from within, it will continue to be the tallest on the lake. Until it topples with another reverberating crack, or is felled to save the cabin.

What can we do to save the tree of our constitution? What can we do with a Supreme Court which has reaffirmed its commitment to treating corporations as people? If vote equals buy, if the constitutional right to free speech has been destroyed by FBI raids and unjustified subpoenas, can the people—the sap of the tree of liberty—make a difference? Tell me how. Tell me how to save both trees.

—September 29, 2010

Rosalie Riegle is a retired professor of English, a writer, and a grandmother of seven.

Please see the calls for action at Michigan Peace Network.