Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Day of Action Observations

April 10 is over. And the incoherence of the national response stands in sharp contrast to the simple unified gesture of a vast subset of the population. Taking a few hours from their millions of lives, they appeared in the streets of America in white shirts to show the world and themselves how many and how united they are. I have seen a lot of demonstrations in my life, both in person and via the media. And yesterday's demonstration is by far the largest, most impressive and most moving in my experience.

There seemed to be no one voice. I heard very little music. The mood of excitement seemed tempered by a serious undercurrent preventing that excitement from getting out of control. What struck me most forcefully was the simple reality that all over the country, at the same time, a multitude of people appeared in white shirts to walk together in their many locations with the same organic sense of group behavior that governs nature, whether it be flights of birds, schools of fish or colonies of insects. Such a phenomenon I have never before witnessed. There were large groups and small. All ages. Men, women and children. And I have to say this: impressively well-groomed and overwhelmingly well-behaved. When I recall the rage of the Sixties...the embarrasement of student groups on spring break with their drunken, dangerous antics...in-your-face offensiveness of political extremists stripping off their clothes to bring attention to their otherwise un-noticed causes...or anti-social envelope-pushing of those who would break down old-fashioned norms, family values regarding sexual identity...

When I contrast all those other "domonstrtions" with what happened yesterday I see a sense of purpose that is almost supernatural. Indeed, there seems to be some confusion about what words to use to describe it. I have seen rally, demonstration, walk, march, invasion and action. Descriptive adjectives are even more varied: immigrant, pro-illegal-alien, criminal, undocumented workers, pro-immigrant, and so on. Depending on what agenda is being advanced the language used to describe yesterday's events is a means of "framing the debate," whatever that means. I listened to a couple of talk shows for a while. Mostly they were sticking to their knitting, keeping well into whatever niche they had carved out for themselves, for after all, when you have a crowd that big it's like the circus coming to town. There is sure to be something for everyone.

Why would that be so? Simple. Unity such as we saw yesterday can only derive from a sense of purpose that overcomes all other reasons to be split apart. America seems not to have had such a sense of purpose since the Second World War. Not even the attack on the World Trade Center succeeded in unifying the country. Oh, it brought out flags and ribbons. People started to pay more attention to the national anthem before sports events. Stories about our military exploits compete pretty well with Michael Jackson, tsunami and hurricane stories or who's gonna be the next American Idol... But nothing comes close to uniting Americans even close to what we saw yesterday among a population with every reason to be split into a thousand fragments.

I have just started to think about it. It's too soon to come to any conclusions. But this much is clear. A movement has started as unstoppable as the birth of a baby. It will happen. The bell will not be unrung. Those who would exploit the situation for their own agendas have already moved. Union organizers. Political extremists, both Hispanic and otherwise. Yes, the Socialists. Also the Communits. These are the ones we know from just reading their own literature. There is no way to know about others with more sinister agendas. And yes, there are those as well. I have looked at their literature also.

Low-hanging fruit is about to start falling. If we don't pick it, someone else will.

It is time for some serious thinking. This issue is not about to disappear. Ranting, name-calling, hand-wringing and righteous indignation are counter-productive, folks. Results have come back from the lab and they are easy to read: something has metastasized. If we don't find a remedy, and a good one, we might be in danger of losing part of our anatomy. Soon.

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