The What and the Who

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I attended my first Tea Party Rally in April of 2008, I had never attended a “protest” before. I had a job and a family; people like me don’t go to protests. I brought my daughter, then 4 years old and made her hold a sign, “Don’t mortgage my future”. She did so diligently, later asking, “What’s a mortgage?” Her innocent question gave me the opportunity to talk to all three of my kids about taxes, debt, mortgages and more recently with my oldest, student loans. I hope, because of the Tea Party, I opened my children’s eyes to that which the education system wouldn’t.

I’ve been to a couple of Tea Party rallies since, but being resigned to our current state of affairs, especially in California, I have lost my zeal. However, having attended I can say I never once felt threatened or concerned I was surrounded by right wing nut jobs. They were/are just people. Might there be a nut job or two in the crowd? Statistically speaking, yes. Do they carry the flag for the entire movement? Of course not. I considered going today to my state capital for this year’s event, but school and mom obligations blocked my path, and then the news of Boston hit my twitter feed.

I thought to myself, I know what today is. It’s tax day. In Boston, it’s Patriot Day – a holiday for the city as they celebrate the Lexington and Concord battles that started the American Revolution. For a moment I fell into the trap our media and our government wants us. I started thinking about the who. Who would commit such an act of cowardice? Who would attack innocent citizens and their children? Who would attack marathon runners? I secretly prayed, “Oh please don’t let it be someone claiming to be a Tea Party Patriot”. I’m sure my left counterpart prayed a similar prayer, “Oh please don’t let it be a liberal or a Muslim” Because this is where we are in this country. We no longer look at the what, we only look at the who. And when we find out the who, we demonize anything and anyone he/she may have been associated with without ever looking at the what.

The what is terrorism. Our president couldn’t bring himself to say it today, presumably because he’s still looking at “all the facts”. But you don’t need facts to understand this was terrorism. A click on my computer tells me terrorism is the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. Looking backwards through the dictionary we find a definition for evil – morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked, harmful and injurious. We don’t have to be a Harvard Law professor to understand dual bombs at the Boston Marathon, one of our nation’s most recognized public and international event, in a populated area on Patriots day is an act of terrorism, and we don’t need to be a theologian to see the result of that bomb was harmful and injurious. So the question remains, now what? It’s not as if this is new territory for us. Our history (both human and US) is peppered with evil acts of terror by every walk of life and every religion. In 1910, the Los Angeles Times was bombed, in 1927 a bomb detonated in Bath, MI at a school killing mostly children, in 1966 a lone gunman at the University of Texas killed 19, and of course more recently Timothy McVeigh was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 is still very fresh in our hearts and minds. I am leaving out several dozen other incidents of violence, mayhem and terror, and in each case the who was unique, but the act is always evil and always induces fear.

So why does the media and our government want us to focus so much on the who? Is it possible those in power are just as bigoted, ignorant, and hateful as those they claim to be protecting us from? Is it possible by demonizing and thus, dehumanizing the “who” they get to dehumanize an entire group of people? If you look at the evolution of journalism there is an obvious trend to not just identify and persecute the offender, but any and all the media tells us he represents. The headline in the New York Times in 1963 refers to Lee H. Oswald as “once defected to the Soviet Union and who has been active in the Fair Play for Cuba”. It was one line in the story of JFK’s assassination and it never made inferences about his religion, political affiliation or ethnicity. When then President Bill Clinton spoke to the nation about the Oklahoma Bombing he eloquently stated when he addressed the nation, “…they are forces (evil) that threaten our common peace, our freedom, our way of life…” The eloquence ended there, the next day Clinton blamed the bombing on conservative talk radio. How do you go from talking about evil to essentially classifying half the country as responsible for one man’s actions? But that is where we are, and that is where we will remain until we decide to be something else, something better.

Gavin de Becker wrote a book several years ago called The Gift of Fear and in it he states,

“Violence is a part of America, and more than that, it is a part of our species. It is around us, and it is in us. As the most powerful people in history, we have climbed to the top of the world food chain, so to speak. Facing not one single enemy or predator who poses to us any danger of consequence, we’ve found the only prey left: ourselves.”

We, as a society, must face the fact we are made up of fallen, fallible, destructible human beings. We are capable of incredible beauty, love, and compassion and we are capable of unspeakable horrors. Crime, terrorism, evil, they all can have a purpose. They can unite us as we band together in our common fight against such malevolence, and make no mistake, it is a fight. We must face such horror united in our opposition to it, and not be swayed by pundits who’s greatest hope is to pin this on a person or a movement they oppose. This isn’t about the next election, it’s about our humanity.

We will mourn our loss, bury our fallen, and heal our wounds. Then we will get up out of bed, breathe in and out, get dressed and live our lives just as we did before 1910, 1927, 1963, 1966, 1995, 2001 and now 2013. Ideally, we will come back and be the city on the hill, a beacon of hope, love, and freedom, but evil will always be there, lurking, waiting, seeking to destroy our spirit, and ideally evil will fail. Not because it will cease to exist, but because we will recognize that our battle is with the what, not the who.

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