Sunday, May 2, 2010

Civic Courage

As Super Son stays late after school each day, in rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz, (the story of a young girl's desperate struggle to return home to her beloved Uncle Henry), I am watching the news with great interest. Recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said something I thought was pretty darned smart:

Running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage.

The Oregonian editors wrote a great piece about the case involved. You can read it here. The case, Doe v. Reed, is from my home state of Washington. As the editors explain:
The court was wrestling with the nature of democracy vs. secrecy. At issue: whether people who sign ballot petitions should have a new right to add their names to ballot petitions -- anonymously.
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, a place with some very interesting politics. It wasn't until I moved out west, first to Oregon and, later, to Washington, that I learned about the initative process. Professor X and I did quite a bit of research in the 1990's on Ballot Measure 9, a precursor to the recent Proposition Hate in California. Like those two measures, the one involved in this recent court case concerns gay rights. This little gem, which I'm happy to say was resoundingly rejected by the voters, sought to overturn domestic partnership protections for gay and lesbian couples. Petition signers didn't want the public to know about their bigotry and sought to have the names remain secret. The Oregonian observed that
But by signing their names on initiative or referendum petitions, people act as citizen legislators. Yes, in the age of the Internet, it may take some special courage to let your name hang out in the public square, but that is a minimal requirement of petitioning for a change in the law. ... Signers' names should be public in the same way that lawmakers' names, are public.
Years ago, I had a mad crush on was crazy in love with deeply admired one of my political science professors. Something he said has always stuck with me. Just a pithy little truism, I suppose. But that doesn't make it any less valid.

If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

I believe firmly in the sentiments expressed by this quote of Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle:

Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.

A military man, my professor undoubtedly knew of the speech of General Douglas MacArthur, in which he stated:
Last, but by no means least, courage--moral courage, the courage of one's convictions, the courage to see things through. The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It's the age-old struggle--the roar of the crowd on one side and the voice of your conscience on the other.
Maybe if people know that they can't anonymously seek to prevent others from having equal rights, they'll think again. They might ponder how their friends and neighbors would feel if their intolerance was public knowledge.

I've testified at many hearings and written many letters to the editor expressing my opinion about all sorts of issues. It's not always safe; sometimes those who disagree have confronted me and asked to take it outside. Once, I testified at a Forest Service hearing about wilderness areas and the need to protect some places from motorized vehicles. A motorcycle enthusiast got in my face when I was done speaking, and walked into the hallway with me so that he could explain that God created those wild places so that he could ride his noisy, stinky bike there. He phrased it a little differently, but he definitely mentioned that it was God's will. A friend I know testified at a hearing in Idaho on another environmental issue, only to find that his small car had been flipped upside down by angry opponents.

But we keep standing up and speaking out for what we believe.

Here's a lovely little clip from The Wizard of Oz. Just click your heels together, say "There's no place like an open democracy" and then click on the pic below.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Super Son is playing the role of Uncle Henry. He's going to be awesome.


Mrs. Chili said...

Cowards (and trolls... huh; I see a connection there!) hide behind anonymity. I'm concerned by this trend of secrecy in democracy because I think it's evidence of our system becoming more and more contentious in a way that forebodes violence. Unless our process is free, fair, open, and SAFE, it won't long last.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I'm a public stander-upper and a letter to the editor writer.

I was recently cyber-bullied for an opinion I expressed--it was truly painful and yet I would do it again.

We must have the courage of our convictions. Those that disagree with us often do.

lisleman said...

I like the one from your professor
"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."

It seems people are fall for anythings all the time.

Hey congrats to your son on the Wizard of OZ part - believe or not I just posted something about OZ.

phd in yogurtry said...

You have some great quotes. Courage, yes. Stand behind your convictions. And also, seems as if anonymous ballet signing could so easily be abused, aka that Acorn business.