May 17, 2006
Thinking about the freedom to disagree
Last week I voted. It wasnt a big election: members
of the local School Board were elected and the school budget
approved. Approval means a modest tax increase I am willing
to pay as I think both arts AND sports belong in schools and
both were cut last year.
I vote at volunteer fire department headquarters in my hamlet.
There, I am reminded of the civic mindedness of my fellow
country men whenever the siren calls, these men and
women drop everything and rush to serve something I
value deeply having had our house almost burn down when I
was young. I am grateful they are there while at the same
time I pray I will never need them.
In that pristine and modern fire station, there were a few
people voting. Only one machine had been pulled out; it was
apparent no rush was expected. Yet there was a steady flow
of folks, moving purposefully in and out of the voting booth.
Standing, waiting my turn, I tasted in my soul the privilege
I was experiencing.
We take voting for granted here in America; it is our right
even if we dont exercise it [and many of us dont].
Yet we have the right to vote up or down any number of initiatives
and budgets; we get to choose who sits for us in Congress
and in the Senate, state and national and we get to choose
the people who will be our voices. It is an incredible process
taken for granted by most people.
My friend Brent Renaud, one of the producers of OFF TO WAR,
wrote me a long e-mail about how during the first elections
in Iraq the people ran toward the voting places as the mortars
fell. I wondered then as I wonder now how many of Americans
would risk mortars to exercise this privilege.
As I was voting, I was reading and following in the news
the national discourse which is occurring over the report
published by USA Today regarding just how extensive is our
governments monitoring of phone calls.
We all have [at least I think we all have] very mixed feelings
about the measures taken by this administration in the name
I am doing some work with a company out of the U.K. It represents
a couple of films, both of which are critical of the official
take on the events of 9/11. Both raise excellent questions;
one of them is fairly extreme in its take, postulating 9/11
was a right wing plot to create a contemporary Pearl
When I was on the phone the other day speaking with the more
moderate of the two producers our call was harassed by a series
of unexplained clicks, which I jokingly ascribed to the government
listening in on us.
I am not sure he thought I was joking.
This week Hirsi Ali [the Dutch Parliamentarian who worked
with Theo Van Gogh on a film about Islamic persecution of
women which resulted in his assassination] admitted lying
on her application for asylum in the Netherlands and was told
to leave the country, not long after being told to leave her
apartment as her presence was interfering with her neighbors
they were distraught over the security surrounding
her since she had been marked for death by Islamic extremists.
There is a furor in the Netherlands over all of this, understandably.
Her treatment has caused some Dutch to wonder if there is
not a parallel to the way some Dutch responded to the Nazis
during World II.
All of this leads back to my moment at the polling place,
my little volunteer fire department station, thinking and
treasuring what it means to be free, free to vote, to make
decisions, to disagree.
Hirsi Ali just gave a speech in Berlin about the fact that
democracy means we are free to disagree and, God love us,
we ARE. And that is what is important and sacred about democracy:
it is institutionalized disagreement and institutionalized
freedom. It is messy, it is imperfect, and it is absolutely
the sweetest thing we undervalue in this country.