Words To Live By, And For A Nation, Die By
Bumped. Originally posted 2008-06-20 13:13:50 -0500.
Posted simultaneously on ePluribus Media, DailyKos, Docudharma and Below Boston.
There are words that comprise paper tigers and those which ignite fires; some words are worth fighting to protect, others are not.
Some words forge new nations and ideals amid the forge-fires of conflict, while others are relegated to the dustbins of history as naught but a footnote at most.
There are words, on the page following, which have worth that appears to vary across the depth and breadth of the nation today. Once -- long ago, perhaps -- they were words that could inspire and entice the people of a nation to do great things. Now, however, their fate appears uncertain. I ask, fellow netizens, just one simple question: Whither the words necessary to marshal a hue and cry of outrage and demand for restoration, restitution and accountability?
Sticks and Stones
May break my bones
But words will never hurt me.
Words. Simply nothing more than the oddly patterned vocalizations of animals who fancy themselves a degree of intelligence and of civilization, really. Words can be represented graphically, in pictures or images, or through gestures, through touch or through sound.
What the words convey, often, are a method and manner of communicating ideas and concepts ranging from basic needs or demands to the quaint complexities of philosphical, political or religious thought.
What power have they, in and of themselves, if there is no meaning attached, or benefit derived, or will to enact action to respond or carry them out?
Our own Declaration of Independence once conveyed words that carried some semblance of meaning, of majesty and power:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Such words were, at the time they were written, potent and powerful indeed -- they spurred action that impacted the world, inciting rebellion and warfare, and implicitly served as a surrogate to bring together a group of men under the same threat of imminent demise:
At the signing, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having replied to a comment by Hancock that they must all hang together: "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately," a play on words indicating that failure to stay united and succeed would lead to being tried and executed, individually, for treason.
All for words.
Words that expressed recognition of and desire for greater rights and freedoms under the control of the individual and collective people. These rights and freedoms formed the core foundations of the nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, are found and prominently repeated once more in the preamble of the United States Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Not content to merely ensure that the Constitution defined a system of government of the people, by the people and for the people, more words were used to hash out a disputed set of amendments, now known as the United States' Bill of Rights:
- First Amendment – Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause; freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly; right to petition
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- Second Amendment – Right to keep and bear arms.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
- Third Amendment – Protection from quartering of troops.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
- Fourth Amendment – Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Fifth Amendment – due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, eminent domain.
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
- Sixth Amendment – Trial by jury and rights of the accused; Confrontation Clause, speedy trial, public trial, right to counsel
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
- Seventh Amendment – Civil trial by jury.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
- Eighth Amendment – Prohibition of excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
- Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
- Tenth Amendment – Powers of states and people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
For a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition of freedom and to the concept that all men are created equal, it seemed fitting a symbol which served to explify the ideals -- the words -- upon which our nation was founded was also known for the words that adorned it. From the base of the Statue of Liberty:
The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, 1883
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
What has become of our new colossus? From an idea to an ideal, from a protector to an enforcer, found on Common Dreams by Amy Goodman, originally found on TruthDig, there's this: We’ll Lock Up Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free
But, those are merely words, too, aren't they?
The ideals have faded; the guardians of truth and justice have let down their guard, and the words they once safeguarded have now been twisted into supplanting their original purpose and supporting ideals and actions that are at cross-purposes to the very definitions that once held up our nation.
Our infrastructure weakens and breaks away, physicially as well as existentially, as the words which helped define and form us are allowed to die off and be redefined without objection and with only halfhearted defense.
I'm reminded of other words -- words that echoed those long-ago dreams and ideals. Words that were issued and uttered in hope of a resurgence of folks striving to protect and defend our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, the rule of law and foundations of a democratic republic built upon the blood of patriots and tyrants...
On Monday, July 4, 2005, a document assembled by a group of US Citizens was released across the internet and on paper to the public. It was an effort to reiterate and redefine the concept of what a True US Patriot was, to counteract the ridiculous rantings and ravings of Republicans, conservatives and right-wing nutjobs who would instantly attack the patriotism of anyone who questioned the criminal actions of the Bush Administration and its GOP protectorate.
The document was called Ten Characteristics of a True US Patriot, and it made a pretty big splash for an effort that was coordinated in secret.
Perhaps one of the most important key concepts from the document comes from the words of Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune:
A True US Patriot loves what his country stands for, not necessarily what his country does, and will not shrink from holding America to her ideals.
Good words -- strong words. True words.
Our current Congress has failed to support and defend the basic tenets of our nation. They have failed to uphold the words they themselves spoke when they swore to protect and defend our Constitution.
It's time to remind them that they work for us. From the bottom of the Ten Characteristics document, there are two key points that can neither be repeated nor emphasized enough:
- It's time for our elected representatives to be reminded - this is our country, our nation, and they serve both it, and us.
- It's time to tell the media that it must live up to the role of champion of the truth, and ask the tough questions.
We're now three years further down the road, and there has been little improvement. True, we've seen that -- as suspected all along -- crimes have been committed. War crimes. Crimes against humanity. Unconstitutional, unconscionable crimes, have been committed against this nation and her people. Laws have been ignored. Officials within the Justice Department have refused to serve subpoenas and refused to uphold the law. Members of Congress in both parties have colluded with a rogue Administration and permitted vast swaths of our founding principles to be neglected, negated and ignored.
Where is the outcry?
Where are the righteously angry voters massing in the streets of the capitol?
Where is the media, with the headlines blazing and bobble-heads blaring about the misuse and abuse of our Constitutional underpinnings -- the rights and liberties that our forefathers fought and died for, and for which our military even now fights and dies for on foreign shores?
Are there any words or actions that can help us now, in this time of need, when we most need to gather together defenders of the words that our founding fathers entrusted to us?