Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tomorrow is Constitution Day

Tomorrow is Constitution Day. The Constitution is only as strong as the people. When you let the elected officials--and we are a Republic-- govern without our oversight you risk losing your democracy, or at least its soul. We have all ready seen how our rights have become abridged with the US Patriot Act.
The public has acquiesced a lot of its power in the name of national security since 9/11. So much so that the Administration, including the President feels it can squelch dissent by calling into question the patriotism of the dissenters, by saying those who disagree with the administration's policies are "Putting the Nation at Risk." This time the people who are "putting our nation at risk are not protestors, are not the voters in Connecticut who choose Lamot over Lieberman but Republican Senators John Warner (VA), John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC). These gentlemen along with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have disagreed with are Bush's proposed rules regarding the interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists. They feel that these proposed rules are counter to the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court also ruled (5-3) last spring that the US needs to adhere to the Geneva Convention (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld to read the case: .

Dissent is American. It is patriotic. It is necessary. Where is Thoreau when you need him? The other night my class did a close reading of Thoreau's 1849 speech cum essay commonly referred to as "Civil Disobedience." To read the entire essay:[]
Thoreau made this points explicit (the numbers are the paragraphs from the essay) :
"11] All Voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.
[16] Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

[19] As for adopting the ways of the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way: its very Constitution is the evil.

[22] Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

[46] The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to?for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well?is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened state until the state comes to recognize the individual as higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to lie aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen. "
(italics mine)

While Thoreau feels that the means of amending unjust laws is too time consuming, his point is that individuals need to act against injustice.

Our founders would agree; they acted against injustice--read the Declaration of Independence.

Tomorrow is Constitution Day. It is only as strong as its people.

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