A Rebel Whisper
2nd in a two-part series on the condition of democracy on Independence Day 2003
by Mike McCabe, Executive Director
July 4, 2003
It’s the fourth of July. Independence Day. The flag flies on the front porch – maybe to support the troops, maybe just out of habit. We sit on the curb and watch the parade go by. Then we picnic.
Nowhere is there proper remembrance of what it’s all for. Nowhere do Jefferson’s words echo. You know, that rebellion is a good thing now and then, as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. His words, not mine.
We seem to take for granted that we are the children of revolutionaries. Jefferson’s spirit of rebellion is our inheritance. We squander that inheritance when we see the state of our democracy today and look the other way.
The public treasury is auctioned off as so many private perks to the highest bidders, and we offer little resistance. Top lawmakers face felony charges for extortion, money laundering, illegal campaign contributions and criminal misconduct in public office, and we muster no rebellion. We tolerate a court-appointed president. We accept elections where half of the office holders face no opposition.
The flag flies. We parade. We picnic.
A big part of the problem is our own apathy, to be sure. But part of it is that we no longer have anything resembling a public square where the voices of rebellion can be heard. Every true democracy needs one. Ours has been privatized. The modern public square, for better or worse, is television. Sadly, that’s where most people get most of their information about civic matters. Thanks to corrupted elected officials, compromised appointed regulators and a citizenry asleep at the switch, the public square is now the private property of a handful of media monopolies.
Fox News Network doesn’t air Jeffersonian rebellion. Neither do any of the other media conglomerates. Ted Turner, of all people, pointed out recently that anti-war sentiment has been branded extremist by the mainstream media and has been largely ignored. He notes that the pope opposes the war, and wonders how narrow-minded we’ve become when the views of the pope are considered too extreme for public consumption. Good question.
I won’t get started on the Patriot Act. Suffice it to say this is a bleak moment in American democracy’s history. But all is not lost. You know what they say about it being darkest before dawn.
It turns out voices of rebellion abound. But it’s not a rebel yell broadcast to the masses, rather it’s more of a whisper transmitted through the new underground press – the Internet – and then passed along through countless e-mail networks and even by word of mouth.
The scope of this whisper campaign became evident when the Federal Communications Commission tried to sneak through sweeping changes in the rules regulating media ownership. The FCC received over 700,000 messages on the issue – all but one in 1,000 expressing opposition to further media consolidation – a response so large it crashed the agency’s e-mail and phone systems. How did so many people hear about the FCC’s plans for more media monopolies? Fox didn’t tell them, that’s for sure.
The FCC – an agency duty bound to serve the public interest – turned a deaf ear to the public outcry, but many in Congress heard. The issue lives. So does the whisper rebellion.
If you listen carefully, over the din of the parade, you can hear the rebel whisper. It calls for a truly free and diverse press. It demands authentic elections and real choices at the ballot box. It condemns the commercialization of free speech and privatization of the public square. It pleads for real campaign finance reform that puts an end to the legalized bribery and extortion that has brought scandal to our state capitol.
I stand corrected. Jefferson’s words do echo still – in a soft, barely audible voice – signaling the start of the next American revolution.