Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Action Thing

Liberty - Use it or Lose it
by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

Some items in the news in the past month:
  • Thousands of demonstrators took part in huge and emotional demonstrations in various Arab countries, and other countries with large Muslim populations, including Nigeria and Indonesia, to protest the cartoons in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, and their subsequent appearance in sundry European publications.

  • Huge protests greeted President George W. Bush during his visit to India, in New Delhi and Hyderabad, cities he visited, but also in other major cities including Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Bangalore.

  • Demonstrations in Pakistan, which had commenced with the Damadola bombing where the US drones got civilians while believing they were getting Ayman Al Zawahiri, got melded with the subsequent cartoon controversy and then continued on to greet President Bush during his short visit to Pakistan. Here too, the rallies were not only in places Bush visited, but throughout Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

  • In 2005, China had 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other "mass incidents" (International Herald Tribune, March 6, 2006).

  • In Venezuela, "President Hugo Chavez's supporters and opponents were out in force, taking advantage of the holiday and their freedom to demonstrate." (from the Register-Guard, Salem, Oregon)
When crowds assembled in Lebanon and Syria, people from every side pooh-poohed the poor saps who were expending so much energy over some silly cartoons. The protests in India were dismissed by commentators as an unholy combination of muslims and communists. Every protester was debunked as being led by some tinpot leader, a false ideology, or plain backwardness.

Let us allow that it is worthless to spend the day in the sun shouting slogans against a faraway paper. While doing so, let's also ask: are there more worthy reasons to protest? And if so, what might they be?

The abridgment of liberties, you reckon? The nation being committed to a criminal military adventure, with deliberate falsehoods fed to the people to gain support for the venture, perhaps? Illegal surveillance, inside the US, possibly? The death of tens of thousands, maybe? Jeopardizing a secret agent to settle personal scores, by some chance? The rendition of future generations to the shackles of debt, could it be?

Yet, how many demonstrations of any kind have we seen in the US? What exactly do you suppose are we saving ourselves for?

It would seem that the people in all these foreign parts hold the liberties enshrined in the US Constitution in far greater esteem than do its own citizens, even as we look down on them for their lack of freedoms. Imagine that for a second... We who have, without protest, countenanced members of the public being thrown out and harassed for wearing a T-Shirt critical of the president to a public meeting addressed by this putative public 'servant'!

Rep. John Conyers (Why We Act) writes of this phenomenon, "For some time, I have opened some of my speeches with a fairly standard line about how great democracy is because hardly anyone votes but everyone complains. There is a new variation on this problem among some in the progressive community and it goes like this: nothing we do matters, nothing we do changes anything so why bother doing anything..."

Everyone seems to be standing around waiting for someone else to do something. The Congress and the media are the favorite (and deserving) targets of much of our ire, but doesn't each of us have the duty to ask what we are doing? What could be sillier than to diagnose a problem in great detail and then sit back as though you had solved it?

To start with, we can help roll the impeachment ball up the (Capitol) Hill: Rep. Conyers has a resolution, currently signed by 28 House members, calling for a select committee to explore impeachment. Twenty eight House members have signed on. Has yours? Why not call and write -- and knock on your Representative's office door to ask that he join Conyers? It would be a good and meaningful act.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at His blog is at


Anonymous said...

Very pertinent observations. Democracy in the U.S. is a concept without real vitality. Most voters have "outsourced" their activism to lobbyists or to those impassioned by specific causes. One would expect that the real threats and encroachments on their rights that have occurred over the past few years would shake people out of their torpor but they appear to be comatose. Images of the frog in the water being raised to a boil come to mind. A long view of history would suggest that these are the beginnings of decline in a great power. There are no great statesmen to inspire the people but even if they were, perhaps they would find it hard to hold the attention of a nation with ADD.

Anonymous said...

Imposing a military draft might send Americans
to the streets!

Anonymous said...

Are you now prepared to take action America? THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION NOTICE! Go to and join good Patriots from across the country. We the People are responsible for our futures.

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that you pay so much attention to these various protests - but that you fail to mention the terrorist attack on one of the holiest temples in the holiest Hindu cities on Wednesday 8th March.

Do Hindus have to start burning cars and attacking embassies before these atrocities get taken seriously?

Anonymous said...

anonymous, you are barking up the wrong tree. the article is not about muslim atrocities, it is about the lack of democracy in the us, and the passivity of americans.

Anonymous said...

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