Time to Get Up

Pasadena Weekly | September 29, 2005
Sometimes, 10,000 people just aren’t enough.

That’s how many showed up for the latest anti-war demonstration in downtown Los Angeles, which occurred in tandem with better-attended but similarly disappointing Sept. 24 protests in San Francisco and Washington — enough to make some noise, but ultimately not enough to make a difference.

By now it’s well known that the American progressive doesn’t stand alone in his opposition to the war in Iraq. Those with even a passing interest in the news must by now understand the rational for occupation was a bald-faced lie and that this unnecessary war has resulted in the deaths of thousands of young people and a virtual free-for-all cash-grab by Bush administration favored sons Halliburton, Bechtel and others. If polls are to be relied on, nearly two-thirds of our country disapproves.

But where is our moral, visceral outrage at the unnecessary death, destruction and outright thievery perpetrated under the guise of war?

When will it translate into personal action?

Are politics, particularly among us otherwise enlightened progressives, no more important to our very identity than the latest indie music fad is to the Hollywood bar scene?

My high school world history teacher, Father Lawrence Ober, S.J., taught that our nation’s destiny to become a global giant was brought to fruition because Americans have done two things better than any other people in the world: shop and complain.

Today we desperately need a refresher course on the second.

To complain is not a passive exercise, just as politics is not a fashion statement. To complain is to resist, to seek change.

For all their foibles, our country’s founders knew this. They were willing to risk their lives and property to effect positive change.

Some would argue that, even then, change only occurred because those who could make a difference were absolutely confronted with injustice that they could ignore only at their own deeply personal peril.

Whatever your take on our fledgling beginnings, a sort of selfish, antisocial philosophy has plagued our lumbering giant of an empire today. Can it be that only a handful of truly committed leftists, whatever their own shortcomings, are meant to carry the torch for all of us?

Sept. 24 was a time when all who hate the war should have taken to the streets to stand and be counted.

But it seems it takes a draft, maybe higher taxes — something that would disrupt our personal comforts — for most Americans to finally stand up for what they believe. Sadly, it’s not enough for us that our neighbor could die, that an Iraqi child may end up dead today for no good reason other than to satisfy corporate greed. We’ll settle for being marginalized and impotent, as long as that means we can still go shopping.

Just like imperialists and profiteers, our sorry performance last weekend amounts to nothing more than selfish disinterest. Even if marching will not stop the war, where were all of our supposedly enlightened academics, celebrities, popular musicians and politicians who by virtue of their position have the ability and thus the responsibility to lead a movement, if one is to materialize on a national level?

Behind the scenes at the Los Angeles demonstration, Hollywood’s de facto peace spokesman Martin Sheen, who plays President Jed Bartlet on television’s “The West Wing,” stated the troubling reality of American progressive politics.

I asked him if Cindy Sheehan’s defiance or the Bush administration’s laissez-faire approach to human need in the wake of Hurricane Katrina had really changed anything.

“Are you talking about the peace movement? There really isn’t one. That’s the problem. If we had a peace movement, we wouldn’t be in Iraq,” he said.

I didn’t take it as an insult to the ANSWER coalition, which has tried its best to awaken LA from its state of anomie, or to any of the good souls who showed up in search of leadership that potentially historic day. Those who I spoke to there didn’t either. In fact, many agreed, like 28-year-old Stacy Ruczik, who reflected that our nation is “disconnected … too comfortable,” or Christal Smith, 27, who mourned that “Americans don’t really care.”

Perhaps it is, however, too much for me to ask people to make a few hours for peace in their already too-busy lives. But it’s not too much for someone who would be a leader — those like Sheen who have the natural talent and name recognition to roust people to action — to ask.

But where on Sept. 24 were the voices of those who society has already empowered to do some good, who already have people’s attention? Where were the rest of the actors, rock stars, congressional representative and other personalities who we regularly give our attention? Although we applaud their efforts, are the venerable Sheen and lefty die-hard Ed Asner the most Los Angeles can do?

While we all should be asking what we were doing Saturday that was so important it outweighed our moral convictions against the crimes of murder and global profiteering, we should also be asking why others who could lead us don’t.

As Sheen said later, and I think to all of us, but especially to those like him who are called to lead, “It’s time for us to get up off our asses.”

Joe Piasecki, 25, is deputy editor of the Pasadena Weekly, a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

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For more than 20 years the Pasadena Weekly has reigned as the San Gabriel Valley's newsweekly of record. Located just minutes from Downtown Los Angeles, the city of Pasadena is perhaps best known nationally for a certain flower-oriented parade and...
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