Sunday, November 21, 2004

Red, White and Blue Emma

In July, 1917, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were convicted of opposing conscription. Before they were sent to prison, Emma made an impassioned plea to the jury. Here is an excerpt. As events have continued to unfold these past two years, Emma's words have rattled around in my brain.

Gentlemen of the jury, we respect your patriotism. We would not, if we could, have you change its meaning for yourself. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty? I for one cannot believe that love of one's country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords, of inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen's paper constitutes the love of country.

I know many people--I am one of them--who were not born here, nor have they applied for citizenship, and who yet love America with deeper passion and greater intensity than many natives whose patriotism manifests itself by pulling, kicking, and insulting those who do not rise when the national anthem is played. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults. So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities; we love her mountains, her canyons, her forests, her Niagara, and her deserts--above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty--but with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the altar of the Golden Calf.

We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged. Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world? We further say that a democracy conceived in the military servitude of the masses, in their economic enslavement, and nurtured in their tears and blood, is not democracy at all. It is despotism--the cumulative result of a chain of abuses which, according to that dangerous document, the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to overthrow.

Full text of Emma's speech to the jury is here .


Sheryl said...

Thanks for this post, Lorraine. I've always thought that the true patriots question injustice to fight for the things they do believe in.

It's funny though. I had a friend who was suggesting that sometimes immigrants are the most inclined to not question things in order to fit in. He was pointing out how many politicians who were first generation Americans were outright jingoists. I think he was discussing Madelaine Albright at the time.

When I think about it, it seems like both are true. Some immigrants question things more than the average American, and some question things less.

I do wish people could easily immigrate. To be able to live in cultures that reinforce their self identities and to be with people they love. As someone who struggled through immigration in New Zealand, that is like going through hell.

On the other hand, I sometimes think immigrants bring the cultural attitudes with them that lead to the conditions they flee. Like when people leave overpopulated countries and move to less populated ones and think it's their golden opportunity to have tons of kids.

Or to leave a country where they are a minority among religious bigots, but then think that bigotry is ok once they are in the majority. (Such as some of the immigrant jews in Israel.)

So I am very ambivalent about immigration. In a sense, transplanting people can be like kudzu or it could be like the potato. It just depends.

J.R. Boyd said...

Dude, immigrants are awesome.

lorraine said...

My favorite paragraph is the third one. We can't enforce democracy overseas when we don't have it at home.

J.R. Boyd said...

Timely. Bush wants democracy in Iraq; can't we try it here first? Almost anything applies. Health care for every Iraqi...?