The experiences of those who have gone before us are not as quickly forgotten as their actions. The lessons dredged from their experiences are, however, deeply buried with every generation. Maybe this is due to time, perhaps politics. Whatever the reason may be, I do know this: I refuse to forget or ignore these lessons.
At Kent State University in Ohio, we fired upon peaceful protesters — four were killed in our name.
Not a decade ago, tear gas was used to break up protesters of the WTO in Seattle. In the ’60s, freedom schools were set up throughout the South to promote education of the masses, especially of black citizens. Local policemen and dissenters were able to break these up, at first. At least three were murdered attempting to educate the masses. The effect of the freedom schools and those of the many other protests and actions outside the lines throughout our history resonate in what it means to be American.
As a child, I was taught that what made America great was not only our rights to question, but also our ability and will to question. America was a place where I could travel outside the proper channels – or traditional channels – to cause great and lasting change. I had the opportunity to be a citizen. Today we are fighting a war, perhaps a war that is unjust, but a war that may bring this human ideal to a nation without freedom.
As I read the paper in the middle of August, I can’t say I was shocked to find yet furthermore proof of this ideal being suppressed abroad by America. Throughout our occupation of Iraq, we have been impeding resistance, rebellion and protest with little or no differentiation between these actions. Rebellion is not voicing anti-American sentiment. Rebellion is taking up arms against a force seeking to control you, your people and your way of life. Protest is voicing unrest, discontent and even anger at those forces you fear, even if this alteration is being done unwittingly. In Iraq, American forces caused a flag to be dislodged, which bore the name of a Muslim cleric and was holy to Shiite Muslims.
The Shiite Muslims in Iraq have been suppressed for years, first by Saddam Hussein and are now being suppressed by American forces. Many Shiites gathered in Sadr City – a section of Baghdad – to protest the dislodging of the cleric flag by Americans. They shouted slogans. They exercised what I had always hoped to consider a basic human right – the right to voice discontent and even anger. American forces reacted in a way that will allow me to remember events in our history: They fired into a crowd of protesters. One Iraqi citizen was killed and, even more were injured.
We as citizens – something that requires more than an American flag bumper sticker or pin – have the civic duty to question such action. These actions by our troops in our name undermined something we have railroaded into a region. These actions have infringed upon the freedom and many other basic human rights of a people occupied by an unwelcome force. Perhaps we as Americans should rediscover the voices of unrest that came before us.
Mark Twain once wrote, “In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” We have this opportunity to be patriots, but more than that, we have the responsibility to be citizens.
The Daily Aztec, San Diego State University