There they were, a million strong, in Washington DC, holding candles in their hands and joining in song: "All we are saying, is give peace a chance." A million of them. Think of it! Think of the power of it!
We were watching the DVD of "The U.S. Versus John Lennon." How this one man, among many, back then, had the courage to stand up for his beliefs and speak them out loud. John Lennon singer, songwriter, pop star, intellectual, performance artist, genius, clown... Not many, of course, had John Lennon's name, nor the platform he had to reach millions throughout the world. Not many--none other, perhaps--could attract the international media to his slightest move, his zaniest pronouncement. And yet millions did stand up for their opposition to a senseless, senselessly protracted war. There was hardly a campus, back in those days, that was not in active revolt.
So where is everybody? We know from well-publicized polls that opposition to Bush's folly in Iraq is widespread, even passionate--and yet we all sit on our duffs or peck away at our computer keyboards, hidden behind the multiple monitors in virtually every house. (I say "all," but that's not entirely true: there are a few hardy souls, like those who stand in protest every Saturday near the boardwalk in Laguna Beach. I honor them.) Where--the question is by now familiar--where is the outrage? Where are the million people flooding Pennsylvania Avenue?
The John Lennon documentary is brilliant, by the way. Our current fiasco is barely mentioned, but you can't watch it without making the comparison all along the way. And the persecution of this cheeky, iconoclastic singer by the entire weight of the United States federal government is an indignation-inspiring tale that will get your emotions roiling in sympathy. What is remarkable is that John managed to survive it. But of course he didn't. Not eventually. It took the bullets of a crazed, gun-wielding lunatic to get him, but he died for the balls he had to stand out and be heard. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd suggest you rent it... It's great just to hear those songs.
Which brings me to Katrina. Ellie and I had watched, the previous two nights (we've been doing a lot of Netflixing!) the epic Spike Lee documentary on the hurricane and its aftermath, "When the Levees Broke." Not surprisingly, it's a film about the abandonment of a city and its people by every level of government. It's about the discrepancy between the fine words some Americans speak and the fecklessness of their actions, or inaction. It's about the unique history and traditions of a truly great, truly individual, truly American city and the callous neglect with which that history and those traditions were snubbed in the wake of natural disaster. It's a depressing story of the indifference of those in power and their betrayal of the trust misplaced in them.
And then last night I heard on the BBC World News that the United States is now rated forty-second in life expectancy among the nations of the world. Forty-second! A statistic not shared, to my knowledge in any of the American media. And then in this morning's New York Times I read Bob Herbert's column on the dramatic growth in urban crime and the bloodshed left in the path of disgracefully uncontrolled guns. And I read the letters on the Editorial page about our country's failure to provide health care for forty-five million of its citizens, including millions of children, and the ruined lives that result from this criminal neglect.
And I remembered that man who stole the Democratic presidential candidates' debate last week--the one who wept before and audience of millions with the shame and indignity of being unable to provide, in his senior years, for health care for his wife; and who asked, choking with emotion, "What has happened to America?" And I hear the familiar chorus of voices that keep inanely bleating that old cliche, the "This is STILL the greatest country in the world," and I wonder...
Ellie reports that she has been sleeping poorly for the past few days. Today she decided that it was likely due to her distress in watching those movies before bedtime--two days' worth of Spike Lee and, last night, John Lennon. What kind of a country have we become, she wondered aloud? What's happened to America? I myself had woken grumpy, and "got out the wrong side of the bed." When I heard what Ellie had to say, I could understand why.