Sunday in the Park
January 20, 2007
Dear anonymous (with a small a): Though your comments were made on a blog, generated by this paper, they received a limited audience. Letters to the editor, though they require the courage of a signature, would have given you a chance to see how many people agreed with your opinions. So let me try to bring your thoughts to an even greater forum, because, whether I like them or not, that is the spirit of journalism and the spirit of American politics.
I was alerted this week to a recent entry where this paper asked in blog form (a wholly unpleasant, open forum often visited by mean-spirited cowards who write anonymously) a question about Iraq — whether to ramp up or get out, in essence. Your entry was something along the lines of asking two questions of the editor, the cartoonist and myself (later, another blogger added Tom Clyde to that list). The questions were, why do "you folks only think free speech applies to those on the left and why do you folks hate America?" At first, after laughing out loud at such broad, unsupported comments, I was ready to move on but as the week wore on so did my anger.
The Park Record is the oldest weekly paper west of the Mississippi in continuous publication. In the interest of full disclosure, I proudly served as the editor for more than half a dozen years. I have been a columnist for 28 years next month. The cartoonist, John Kilbourn, has worked for the paper for many years as well. I asked Tom Clyde to come on board about 20 years ago. It’s important to mention — do the math as to how many weekly issues that would be for all of us combined. And each week, at least once, we have signed our names to our opinions. It is, admittedly, a small act of courage, but the only way real change ever happens is by small acts by individuals.
Since the lock-step thinking after 9/11 there has been a misguided, frightening belief, that if we did not support every act, deed and word by the current administration, we were somehow un-American. All I could think during this time was how sad that would have made the diverse group of founding fathers who argued that all beliefs would be honored equally, with justice for all, leaving behind the belief you had to worship The King.
Freedom of speech is the first amendment those founding fathers made. That means even though I find your comments unfounded and mean-spirited, you can have them without fear of losing your head. And I get to keep mine.
As to the idea that I hate America, I can’t leave that unanswered. Even your using the word hate offends me. Words have power, I always told my children. You can hate behaviors but not people. And certainly not a country, because any country is a group of individuals, collected geographically, and no group of individuals completely share the same beliefs. In fact, few families do.
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In my family of origin, loving America wasn’t taken for granted. You had to work to help make America great and in my family that meant endless hours of volunteer work, from licking envelopes to knocking on doors. That energy was always directed at supporting the Republican Party. While I have often joked it was rather like being raised by wolves, it was, in truth, a solid foundation of activism. My mother has the most amazing collection of campaign buttons that would be the envy of the Smithsonian. Dating back to Wendell Willkie, she has kept buttons from all the races she worked on. "Ike and Dick are sure to click," with those smiling faces, is a prize. Ditto the "Stamp out Brown," referring to then governor, Jerry Brown. At Christmas time the mantel over the fireplace became a sea of elected officials and their families properly posed around the tree at the White House or governor’s mansion. Later, after she had raised her two daughters, largely on her own, my mother held a fistful of positions with the local and state divisions of the Republican Party, and served repeatedly as a delegate to the National Convention (as did my grandmother right after women got the vote). She was appointed to a position in state government and worked in Sacramento for years. At 80-plus, she still volunteers her time for her party and travels up and down the state of California, working tirelessly to get out the vote.
I grew up giving flowers to Mamie Eisenhower and Pat Nixon when they came to the Republican Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and, years later, having dinner with then ambassador, Shirley Temple Black, who lived in our district. I learned early on not to take democracy for granted. I had a brilliant example of loving America.
I was also a child of the ’60s, living 20 minutes from San Francisco, then going off to college in 1969 in Greeley, Colo. I formed my own opinions. I watched my classmates go off to a war we didn’t understand and in the end couldn’t support. I could give my whole coming-of-age political story but here’s what is most important about that period for me, I became almost Quaker-like in my belief that no war is moral. Complicating that, while I couldn’t support war, I felt compelled to be supportive of the individuals who had to fight them.
Since moving to Utah in the late ’70s, I have explored the back roads of the West, from California to Colorado, New Mexico to Montana, and I often write about those road trips. I consider them word portraits of this part of America that always surprises me and fills with me awe, which is a simple kind of love.
So if, anonymous (with a small a), your remarks were derived from the fact I often, consistently, have spoken out against this current war and the lack of leadership from this current administration, I think you will find more than 70 percent of Americans of both parties and no parties agree, and even if they didn’t, I’d still hold true to my beliefs. It is a privilege I understand and hold dear, living in America.
If, small "a" anonymous, you somehow read something else in my columns about my travels, or my neighborhood or family or community pride that I regularly write about, that leads you in any way to believe I hate America, I would love to have you write that in a letter to the editor with your name attached, in a courageous way, and open the discourse.
If, however, small "a," you can only communicate in cyberspace where no one has to be accountable, then none of those opinions holds merit. The America that I know and love requires commitment and deeds as small as licking an envelope or owning your own opinion.
I am proud to work for this paper I often disagree with, and to work with reporters and columnists I often disagree with as well. Because every week they start all over again to inform, educate and, finally, illuminate readers about the news of the week. And each time, each time, they/we sign our names. It is a small thing, I know, but something in many countries we could be put to death for. But not in America — a place that, with all her flaws, I love each day, like this very Sunday in the Park