Commentary by Julia Butterfly Hill – 2005-07-03 23:57:13
I am ashamed of my government.
I am ashamed that we have made a mockery of our Bill of Rights by allowing the newly reauthorized and expanded “Patriot” Act to give our government near-absolute authority to define dissent as “terrorism.”
I am ashamed that my President speaks about “liberty,” “freedom,” and “democracy” yet our country continues to carry forward a centuries-long agenda of environmental destruction, social inequity, imperialism, and violence.
I am ashamed that regardless of scientific evidence pointing to global warming and peak oil production, we aren’t making any significant strides towards a sustainable new society where all of us can thrive together in harmony with nature.
I am ashamed that these atrocities, and thousands more, happen in my name.
Yet this Independence Day, I am reclaiming the term patriot for all of us who don’t agree with the status quo. Rather than looking at our options as set out in George W. Bush’s proclamation: “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists,” I choose instead the words of American essayist, Edward Abbey:
“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
On Independence Day, we remember our founding fathers who stood up for what they believed in and risked their lives to set in motion the country we live in today.
We celebrate them with fireworks, picnics and parades. But these were ordinary people who fought against the tyranny of the English government, denouncing the status quo.
America’s legacy of patriotism includes other ordinary people, summoning the courage to speak out when our most treasured values and principles are threatened.
Some of the most inspiring patriots I can think of include Rosa Parks, who, 50 years ago, demanded that she as a black woman be accorded the same dignity as everyone else riding the bus; people like Cesar Chavez, who took a daring stand in the fields for a better life for all farm workers; and people like Camilo Mejía, who was the first US soldier to actively resist the Iraq War, relinquishing his own freedom in the process.
Indeed, every right we often take for granted today is the result of people who have acted courageously to help create a more humane and inclusive America. From women’s suffrage, to civil rights, to today’s movements for peace, sustainability, and global justice, concerned people have shown that activism is not only patriotic — it’s essential to making our country and the world a better place.
We cannot allow those in government to unilaterally create our country and our world. Each of us has precious talents to offer and can use those gifts to create positive change — whether that action is voting, organizing, gardening, dancing, speaking out, writing letters, volunteering with a local cause, or engaging in direct action and civil disobedience.
I sat in a redwood tree for two years without coming down in order to protest the destruction of our nations’ ancient forests. People come up to me and tell me all the time, “Wow, Julia, I never could have done that.” And I respond, honestly, “Neither could I.”
In fact, when I climbed the tree, I planned to stay there for only a couple of weeks, or maybe a month. Each day, I made a new choice to stay in that tree. But for two years and eight days, the call of activism rang far louder in my ears than the call of clean sheets and a comfortable bed.
This Independence Day is a perfect time to allow yourself to hear the call of activism. It is a perfect time to reclaim patriotism — regardless of your political point of view. Find that action that drives you day in and day out to make our country and our world a better place for all life.
Choose to participate in local revitalization efforts, voter registration drives, teach-ins, debates, marches and other events. Commit yourself to smiling at everyone you pass one day, or to picking up every piece of trash on your block.
Become one of the millions of people utilizing their minds, money, voices and votes to create a better country and a better world. I promise when you find the actions that call to you most powerfully, your excitement and passion will be powerfully contagious.
And to help you out, the nonprofit, Circle of Life, has assembled some of the best grassroots resources for activism in the country, at http://www.activismispatriotism.org .
You, yes you, make an enormous difference. Your country and your world need you — now more than ever. From every mountainside, let activism ring!
Julia Butterfly Hill is an activist and the bestselling author of The Legacy of Luna. In 1999, while still living in the giant redwood Luna, she founded Circle of Life (http://www.circleoflife.org) to promote conscious action toward a peaceful, just and sustainable planet.