July 4th Essay 2009

“The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave man only once.” Oscar Wilde

It makes me smile when I occasionally receive compliments for being outspoken on issues. The reason for the smile is that it takes so little courage to voice an opinion in a country like ours. The people who should truly be admired are those that have suffered under the yoke of oppression. They know the consequences of their actions, yet they speak out anyway. 

We are watching, in Iran, a real time drama. None of us can predict the final outcome, but the price of asserting civil rights have already been high, and may get infinitely worse.

The fear and loathing citizens feel for a brutal oppressor hangs on a nation like a pall.   At every turn the people watch and fear, and so do the oppressors. One day the people collectively, somehow spontaneously, stand up and say, enough is enough.

Demonstrating in the streets as a citizen is not at all like the courage needed to fight in an organized army. An unarmed citizen is vulnerable beyond belief. There is a passion for freedom and there should be. Freedom is a key element in making life on this planet worth something.

The Iranian people have no history of democracy in terms that the citizens of Western countries and North America in particular have known. Their knowledge of democratic institutions is mostly vicarious. What they read, what they see on television, and what they learn through the Internet creates a desire that we may have a little trouble comprehending. That desire to have a voice in the way they are governed is real.

Have we, at times caved in to our own leaders? I suggest that we have, and there is no excuse for it. But there are so many bright spots. Martin Luther King and the many lesser-known participants of our own civil rights movement faced some difficult challenges that are similar to those circumstances Iranians are facing now. John L Lewis and the many labor leaders before and after Lewis faced the same bloody prospects. Susan B. Anthony and her many compatriots fought and won the right to vote for women. None of these movements in our society were easy.

This revolt in Iran, and it is a revolt even if it didn’t start that way, will wind down. We have no idea if the present regime will pull all the stops, ala Tianeman Square and beat the population into submission, or relent. In either event Iran is changed forever. If Iran does not change at once-it will change at last. It must change because a police state is terribly inefficient and ultimately they all fail.

But getting back to my opening point. Speaking out is usually not all that difficult in a great country such as this, but it can be daunting. Great nations, that is, free nations, have been built on the courage of individuals and groups. Doing so was difficult and often dangerous.

Building a house is the product of planning, hard work and sacrifice, maintaining a house is less difficult but absolutely essential. Think of your voice as part of the maintenance needed to keep what the founding fathers fought for, and certainly would have been hanged for if the outcome were different. Being ostracized for giving your opinion is uncomfortable, but hanging for it is well………worse.

Quoting from an essay written by Tom Friedman in the NYT, “Congratulations you won the lottery. You were born in America” Yes! We are lucky, but it’s our job to hold on to that gift.

Have a great birthday