Common Voices

Common Dreams is a great website, bringing together dozens, maybe hundreds of liberal-to-radical voices to address the critical issues of the day. Recently, they ran a great piece by Howard Zinn calling for a new take on patriotism, a patriotism that recognizes the common humanity–and the common suffering–of people everywhere, instead of the ephemera of nation, tribe, and government.

We need to expand [our notion of patriotism] beyond that narrow nationalism which has caused so much death and suffering. If national boundaries should not be obstacles to trade – we call it globalization – should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity?

Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.

They are also carrying a transcript of a speech Tim Robbins gave on “baseball and show business”–and, not coincidentally, democracy.

For all of the ugliness and tragedy of 9-11, there was a brief period afterward where I held a great hope, in the midst of the tears and shocked faces of New Yorkers, in the midst of the lethal air we breathed as we worked at Ground Zero, in the midst of my children’s terror at being so close to this crime against humanity, in the midst of all this, I held on to a glimmer of hope in the naive assumption that something good could come out of it.

I imagined our leaders seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted to talk about Democrat versus Republican, white versus black, or any of the other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public discourse. I imagined our leaders going on television telling the citizens that although we all want to be at Ground Zero, we can’t, but there is work that is needed to be done all over America. Our help is needed at community centers to tutor children, to teach them to read. Our work is needed at old-age homes to visit the lonely and infirmed; in gutted neighborhoods to rebuild housing and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots to baseball fields. I imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity of spirit and create a new unity in America born out of the chaos and tragedy of 9/11, a new unity that would send a message to terrorists everywhere: If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, and more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of the fire, we will be reborn.

Of course, America has no leaders worthy of the name, at least not in office, and within days of 9/11–within hours–the military machine was already in motion, and what we got instead of hope and a renewal of purpose was this Eternal Retribution, this hirsute bow-legged cock-swinging that seems likely to become the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Zinn and Robbins speak to the best human nature has to offer. There have been times in the last 20 months when I’ve been literally on the edge, seething with frustration and rage and impotence and fear and uncertainty and loathing and contempt, and it their example and the examples of so many people like them that has kept me not only sane but hopeful.

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