We’re having the wrong conversation, or perhaps more accurately, we’re having a lot of wrong conversations.
This past weekend, I joined a small group of people from across our community who felt moved to stand up against the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. We chose to stand in a place where we have visited before in the cold December air–on the sidewalk next to the main road leading to the biggest shopping malls in town because we knew people would have plenty of time to read our signs as they were stuck in traffic. The traffic was lighter than it has been in past and several stores in the strip mall behind us have been shuttered in the last year. No doubt people heading into the malls will be spending less this year, considering each purchase a bit more carefully.
A few people yelled angry things at us, most just stared, a few honked and waved in support. But they all kept driving. Into the mall, with less money but refusing to see the connection between the money we spend in Afghanistan, for what noble cause (as Cindy Sheehan eloquently puts it) I have no idea. In explaining the reasons for the escalation, Obama opened with references to 911, claimed that terrorists trained overseas had been found in America (although on the Colbert Report a few nights later, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napalitano was hard-pressed to offer any evidence of that, and the mainstream media sure isn’t pressing the point). Obama’s speech offered no change, in fact it could have just as easily been delivered during the Bush presidency. Telling us we must risk more lives to fight the elusive enemy called terror. And meanwhile, Americans rack up credit card debt at the mall just in time for Wall Street to hand out its obscene bonuses.
Change? Not hardly, just a propping up of the system so that it can keep feeding on itself. Congress meanwhile bound and determined to pass a healthcare bill regardless of merits cheerfully sold out women’s reproductive rights in the eleventh hour for 3 votes and whatever the final form of what is likely to be a very sorry piece of legislation looks like, the compromises made in the name of health industry ‘support’ will no doubt come at the cost of lives, probably many more lives than have been lost to ‘terrorism’. Still, people keep driving to the mall.
But perhaps nowhere is the discussion more nonsensical than when it comes to the environment. The whole notion of Cap and Trade is insane (and for a wonderful, easy explanation that even a grade-schooler (although apprarently not members of Congress) would understand of why, go here). Here in the southeastern U.S. our mountains have been sacrificed for coal, the tops summarily cut off and the debris dumped in our streams as if we have the right to do such a thing without regard for the true cost to people and the environment.
As Bill McKibben points out, this wrong conversation about the environment, unlike the wrong conversations about the economy and health care, has the potential to be an end game, to wit physics does not know to respond to politics, “It’s like nothing we’ve ever faced before — and we’re facing it as if it’s just like everything else. That’s the problem.”
And still, people keep driving to the mall. Back in 2002, as the war in Afghanistan was ramping up, we had a sign in our yard that said, simply, “Peace”. Some of my neighbors felt moved to respond by literally circling our front door with “We Stand With President Bush” signs. It was a terrifying sight. When the Christmas season rolled around again later that year, one of my sons wondered what would happen if we put a sign up that said “Peace on earth, Goodwill to all.” In the years since, I have stood my peace several times alongside the malls as we did last weekend. And in the last few weeks, I have stood up for health care, and for the environment. And I’ll keep standing up. I think of it as attending the First Church of the Sidewalk, surely a far holier experience than a day at the mall.
The one thing I know for sure–we need to quit the annual mall trek, get out of our cars, put down the plastic shopping bags and say enough of the damaging and downright deadly conversations. Health care is a human right, war does not create peace and most assuredly begets terrorism. The wealth of corporations cannot come at the expense of the welfare of people and we can not trade our way to capping carbon or fuel our world by destroying mountains.
Stand up. Speak out. It is time to insist upon speaking truth to power.