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An Open Letter to Our Government

Filed under: Activism, Letters, Literary

Last week, we received this essay from Lucy Kogler of Talking Leaves…Books, which we think ought to be shared:

An open letter to our Executive, Legislative and Judiciary aka: Our Government:

Dear Mr. President and the many elected and appointed:

And though the heart may not be the spirited creature we had hoped

it will do to passionately take in love and the knives all around us.

The whole immense city sees itself a prisoner on this corner

That’s like an enormous eye

opening to where infinity begs an end to man’s thirst for going too far.

— Roque Dalton, “The Decision,” from Small Hours of the Night—Selected Poems, (emphasis added)

Once again it is April, the month to nationally celebrate Poetry, to internationally commemorate the six recognized Genocides and to accept the work of preventing others.

I believe it is a fateful coupling: poetry and genocide. For who speaks to the people with more passion and urgency than poets? And what intentionally silences voices more completely than genocide? April is the month to recognize that we have gone too far.

On March 28th I listened as you, Mr. President, spoke to the American people about  Libya.  You stated that we are involved because of “our opposition to violence against one’s own people.” That we are obligated to bring “them” the “bright light of freedom & dignity.”

Will I sound treasonous when I write that we, the United States, are engaged in violence against our own people?  That I believe that there is a genocide taking place right in this country?  That it is genocide of the underclass, the impoverished who no longer even have a name? We talk about “the working poor”, the unemployed, but have come to ignore the many who are homeless, illiterate, hungry, destitute, but are still of us.  What do we call these people? The unmentionables? The invisibles? The Nobodies?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you—Nobody—Too?

—Emily Dickinson

We are meant to learn from Genocide Prevention Month, to be made aware of past atrocities by studying them, naming them, reviling them.  We are meant to become citizens of the world actively participating in expelling the dictators and despots who would destroy a people, tribe, race and/or class.  But Americans have not learned.  We choose to believe that we are still the most powerful of nations and the most moral of arbiters.  We choose to believe that by acting outwardly towards global remedies of intolerance, our own intolerance and cruelty will remain in the shadows and unquestioned.

The 1951 UN Treaty in Article 2 defines genocide as “meaning any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such: c.) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…”

The United States has been programmatically eradicating the impoverished for many decades.  Most recently, with the continued and enhanced “humanity” attributed to corporations, we have determined that these entities deserve more rights, preferential treatment, generous tax abatements and loopholes, and lenient penalties for egregious acts of malice and bad faith against humans and the environment—a more humane treatment than the least of us, actually than most of the rest of us, are afforded. William Greider in his article “How Wall Street Crooks Get Out of Jail Free” (The Nation 4/11/11) speaks to the moral issues of “too big to prosecute,” “too big to fail,” the loss of society’s sense of right and wrong re: economics.  He writes “Corporations do not experience human guilt, since they exist only as artificial entities constructed from law.  It is intolerable that these organizations wield so much power over society, but for many years people have been led to believe that corporate good fortune is synonymous with general prosperity.” All too frequently we witness corporations ravage the environment, people’s lives and our Constitution; when challenged and convicted they write off the fines as a cost of doing business and continue with their malfeasance.

It is time to send “troops” who will guarantee liberty and freedom from our dictators—banks, corporations, legislators and judges—who vote against life-saving and life-giving aid.  Send troops into our poorest communities where they will do the humane and necessary work of citizens soldiering the effort essential for the betterment of the forgotten.  The troops we need are teachers, social workers, community organizers, literacy workers, small business owners, cultural workers. We need to provide food and  housing and heat and health care and jobs.  All of the liberties that we are fighting for in other nations should be fought for and won here.  As a country we always manage to provide support to force out dictators whose regimes no longer happen to serve our national interest.  The people of these nations are deemed to be in critical need of their “liberties and freedoms.”  That our underclass has no oil to offer allows our legislators to vote away their basic rights (not entitlements) with nary a conscience. The U.S. is not above genocide. We waged one against Native Americans.  Is it such a stretch to recognize that we are doing it again?  We have ignored genocides (Darfur, Rwanda) until it was too embarrassing to not have a response. Are we going to ignore what we are doing to ourselves?

Love rejected

hurts so much more

than Love rejecting;

they act like they don’t love their country

No

What it is

is they Found out

their country don’t love them.

—Lucille Clifton

It is egregious and mean that our government can claim to give and protect others’ freedom and dignity while deliberately voting to defund education, the arts, clinics, women’s rights, environmental issues, all of the areas that would most benefit our collective national health and future. There is no compromise.  To discount and deliberately do damage to a strata of our society is to say that they are expendable, less than human—it is to go too far.

We can reclaim humanity and integrity woefully missing from decisions made by all three branches of our government.  We can wrest control of our future from the angry, spoiled, smug legislators and judges who are afraid to act contrary to the dictates of corporations.  We can prevent further destruction of our poorest and stop this genocide.

…I’m told another story.  After the bombing

a certain tree was found standing,

though badly burned.  People put crutches

under its limbs and wrapped it with rags

meant to replace the bark.  They wanted

that tree so much, like them, to survive.

—Millen Brand, Peace March: Nagasaki to Hiroshima

Lucy Kogler, Independent Bookseller