The Second American Revolution

March 22, 2003

Craig S. Barnes
A talk given before a crowd of several hundred at a vigil in front of the State Capitol of New Mexico, March 22, 2003.

The United States has this week unleashed an unprovoked campaign of terror against a weaker people under the pretext of imagined, conjectured future wrongs. After months of highly visible international debate the government’s justification boils down to the fact that no other force on earth is strong enough to stop us. This government has at the same time and in preparation for the long term also launched a campaign of suspicion, arrests, encouraged spying and deprivation of rights against its own people here at home. The government is thus at war on two fronts, against a foreign people and against its own people, and in the latter case, threatening to turn us against each other, threatening to undermine that civility, mutual respect and compassion which are at the root of ours or any other democratic society.

We gather therefore today to consider what power it is that might bring an end to such illegality, such arrogance, such deceit, such a mind of brutality against others abroad and our own here at home. The government has not been candid with us about the excuses for this war, saying that they would try diplomacy when all along what was intended was not diplomacy but coercion. It has not been candid with us when it said that the invasion was justified to stop terrorism when it knew that it could prove no Al Qaeda connection. It has not been humble in the face of the fact that major civilized nations did not agree or that there was no concrete material evidence of weapons of mass destruction. It has not been contrite in the face of the overwhelming opinion that an unprovoked invasion violates international law. Instead it has claimed a law unto itself and arrogated to itself all the powers of lawmaker, judge, and executioner. In all this it has taken the rule of law, the jewel achievement of western civilization, forcefully backwards. It has taken us backwards to a primitive condition before the first rules and traditions of proportion, back before the Code of Hammurabi, back before the rules of 1728 BC. It has taken us back before the first democracy, back to the mind in which ancient Athens attacked and massacred the Melians in 418 BC. It has taken us back to the corrosive greed of ancient Rome and the abusive self satisfaction of George III of England.

All this regression has occurred because of some loosening, not just in the minds of those who run this government but some loosening in the minds of the American people, some forgetfulness, some slackness about who we are and how hard it was to create a truly free society. This moral corruption, this abuse of power, this arrogance, this illegality happens at every level of our culture and because we ourselves have not been vigilant it has at last emerged victorious to take over our government.

We ask ourselves what we must do to contain and how we might forswear this abuse and when we look most deeply we come back to ourselves. And so we are gathered here today, on this day of national tragedy to commit ourselves to whatever it might require, and we are in the mind of revolution. In a time of undemocracy it will be revolutionary to be in favor of democracy; in a time of untruth, it will be revolutionary to tell the truth; in a time of arrogance it will be revolutionary to be humble; in a time of militarization it will be revolutionary to be opposed to the subversion of free society by military power. And in all these ways we are gathered here today to commit ourselves again to that revolution. Thomas Jefferson said that we might need a revolution every 20 years. Well, our 20 years is up. The time has come for the second American revolution.

We are called upon today by the great national tragedy which is unfolding before our eyes to be revolutionaries without force, revolutionaries of the spirit, revolutionaries of character and all this in a sea of culture which believes in force, believes that character is irrelevant. We are called to be revolutionaries of restraint in an ocean of economic and cultural excess, revolutionaries for the law in a world of callous disregard for what is legal. How else can we call George Bush to account for violation of the international law of aggression than if we are ourselves aware of and trained in the principles of fair process and restraint? How else can we call Dick Cheney to account for the sin of arrogance if we are not ourselves trained in humility? How else can we say to Donald Rumsfeld that power is not the be-all and end-all of democracy if we ourselves are primarily interested in power?

This second American revolution has always been just ahead of us. We have never been here before. This is not the revolution of 1776. This is not the French revolution of liberté, egalité and fraternité. We have a work to do beyond elections and free assembly. This is beyond even the first amendment. This is the revolution of deep personal example which has always lain just beyond the reach of our culture. That is where we are called upon to lead today. To take the country to the next step in the development of the human being. Not as if we had ever been there before, but as if we know that there is no other choice now then to become more than we have ever been before. As if we know that we can no longer get to freedom without personal restraint, as if we know that we can no longer get to liberty without truth, as if we can no longer get to peace without willingness to abide in our suffering.

What must we do, what can we do in the second American revolution which we begin today? We must become individual, personal islands of conscience in an ocean of indifference, islands who symbolize that revolution of decency and compassion which was the original promise of the first democracy. We must become truth tellers and historians and psychologically too sophisticated to project the enemy outside onto either Islam or George Bush. We must become mediators and conciliators and too experienced to rely on simple slogans or formulas of justice and revenge. We must become poets and musicians who sing to the hearts of decent people in opposition to materialism and excess. We must become examples of the future so that we begin to taste and love and cherish the dream ourselves, so that our work is not a sacrifice but a reward, so that our future is not for some new generation but is our own.

There are a great many young people here today. Stay in school. Study your heads off. If we would have a president who understands history than you must study history for the day when you will be president. If we would have a president who understands Islam then somebody here better learn Islam and be ready to advise that president. Those of you who are not young, stay at work and pay a fair share of your tax. If we would have schools that teach and health care for the elderly we will have to pay for them with taxes. Stay at the loom and the cello, and weave civilization all around you.

Let us be known as revolutionaries in the cause of human dignity. Let that be the second American revolution. Adam Miknik the Polish revolutionary who led the struggle against communism in the 1980s did so from his jail cell. He said, "Ah, what a fine jail cell," and began to weave for the Polish people on the outside an imagination of what the revolution would be that begins on the inside. That is where we are today. Ah, what a fine state of chaos our world is in. Ah, what a fine day for a revolution. Today, from Iraqi suffering we can see that we are not Americans so much as humans, not any more limited by nationalistic boundaries or slogans but united in one global tragedy. Let the image of the fires of Baghdad be our spur. Let us tell Iraqi mothers and fathers in our prayers we will not forget. Tell them in our prayers that we will bring the flame of truth home; the fire of human dignity will not go out. We will see to that. We have the power to see to that, and no one can take that power from us. By our very knowing we have the power to be revolutionaries of the human spirit. We are all Iraqis, we are all Americans. We shall all overcome.