Tag Archives: guns

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: FIFTY YEARS AFTER

In his memoir WOODSTOCK NATION, Abbie Hoffman paints a telling portrait of  himself at the festival’s end – staggering aimlessly around the deserted, trash-strewn field, stoned out of his mind, and crudely propositioning every female he encounters.

That image comes to mind when I try to figure out what happened to the optimistic peace-and-love vision of the hippies, and why 50 years later we find ourselves in a world that seems in many ways the exact opposite of what they were hoping for.

Part of the fault was our own, of course. (I am lumping myself in with the Woodstock generation here, though I was a little bit younger – still only in junior high when Woodstock happened.)   To put it succinctly, I think we were right to claim the freedoms we claimed, but we forgot… or neglected… or refused to accept the responsibilities involved. 

But there was also a backlash. The conservative establishment responded to the social unrest and cultural upheaval that marked the 1960’s with a campaign that was breathtaking in its depth, scope, and audacity. It was also, we must begrudgingly admit, largely successful. 

We can start with August 28, 1971, just 2 years after Woodstock. A corporate lawyer (and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice) named Lewis Powell writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr. – Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Powell decries what he sees as a concerted attack on American economic institutions – indeed, on the American way of life itself. But he’s not particularly worried about Communists or leftists:

“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.”

So he recommends that a series of  countermeasures be taken within each of those spheres: education, religion, the media, and so on. And though I can’t say that all these developments below sprang directly from Powell’s memo, we can note the creation of a vast array of new institutions and organizations, and changes in existing ones, within the next few years. (This was not a “conspiracy,” mind you; this was all done quite openly, right out in front of God and everybody.)

Some highlights:

There are many more examples I could cite, of course – from the establishment of think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, from FOX News to the Koch brothers, from ALEC to the Citizens United case. My point is this: these people worked long and hard to bring us to the present situation. Whatever happens to the Trumps and their supporters and enablers, it will take at least as much time, money, effort, and dedication to undo the damage they have caused.

Maybe by the Woodstock centennial, we’ll be able to really celebrate.

CRAFTING FREEDOM

“Hello, welcome to Hobby Lobby, how can I help you?”
“Well, you people can quit the deceptive advertising, for one thing.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You say you sell Craft supplies, right”?
“Yes.”
“Well, here’s my card, my name is Morgana Freya’s-child Isisflower, and I am High Priestess of the Circle of Kali in Her Partying Aspect. I practice the Craft, see? So I looked up ‘craft supplies’ on Google, and you guys came up first, so here I am! And let me tell you, I’ve been up and down every aisle of this store and except for this nice piece of hemp rope and these candles I can’t find any of the stuff I need for a handfasting ceremony I’m supposed to conduct tomorrow…”
“Plastic or paper? Oh wait – Craft? You mean – like witchcraft?”
“Just put them in my tote, young man, thank you… No, we don’t call it that anymore, that’s so 17th-century, y’know… We prefer the word ‘Wicca.’ We do ceremonies, you know, rites – and I’ve already been to Rite-Aid, by the way, and they couldn’t help me either…”
“But – but we’re all Christians here…”
“I see. OK, you got any unsanctified hosts? I have a friend who needs some of those by next Friday for some thing he’s doing… not my bag, personally, but whatever…”
“What? No, those would be for Catholics…”
“Well, they’re Christians, aren’t they?”
“No – I mean yes – well, I mean, I guess so… No, wait a minute, you’re the one who is confused here, ma’am, I’m sorry, this store is for hobbyists…”
“Hobbyists? I’m not familiar with that religion, is that like the Christian Scientists? ‘Christian Hobbyists’?”
“No, ma’am, there is no such thing as Christian Hobbyists…”
“Are you sure about that? I think it would be a pretty popular church. – Hey, who’s that? Quick, get down, some guy’s coming in here with a rifle! Goddess save us all!”
“Hey, good afternoon – pardon me, but where can a guy find some Kevlar cloth? I wanna make a soft case for my gun here, I just brought it along so we could measure…”
“I’m sorry, sir, can I help you?- Ma’am, what are you doing with that chalk?”
“Casting a circle of protection, that’s what I’m doing! That guy’s a menace!”
“Hey, look here sister, I ain’t trying to cause any –“
“And I’m not a nun, I’m a High Priestess, buster!”
“What’s going on over here, Stevens? I heard some disturbance…”
“Oh, Mr Thompson! Uh, nothing, sir, we just have some misunderstandings…”
“Sir, I’m sorry, we generally don’t allow firearms to be brought into the store… Do you have an open carry permit?”
“Yes sir – I also have membership in the First Church of Christ Ballistic, we’re expected to open carry wherever possible, y’know, like them Sikhs and those daggers they got? Anyway, I just wanted to get some material to make a nice gun case for my friend, she’s getting married tomorrow…”
“Say, wait a minute – are you talking about Hildegard Rainbarrel, by any chance?”
“What’s that, ma’am? You know Hildy? Yeah, we belong to the same gun club, she invited me to some thing – they don’t call it a wedding, but whatever, y’know? Her and Sam, they’re a nice couple, and she’s got this same kind of rifle…”
“Yeah, I’m going to officiate – and it’s called a handfasting, by the way –“
“Yeah, that was it! Couldn’t think of it…”
“Hey, do you know where I could find a nice ceremonial sword? I need one for the ceremony…”
“Sword? Heck, I got a whole wallful, you wanna check ‘em out? I’d be glad to let you borrow one…”
“Why yes, that would be wonderful – and I don’t know about Kevlar, but the fabric store next door has some really sturdy ripstop nylon… and you’ll need some nice lining… My name’s Morgana, by the way…”
“Well, glad to meet you, Morgana, my name’s Arthur… Let’s stop by that coffee shop first, I’ll show you the design I had in mind…”
“Mr. Thompson, what just happened?”
“I don’t know, Lyle, but I need you to clean up that chalk drawing. I think Susie back in Dry Flowers is about to go into labor…”

The Peace and Justice Files: The Reign of Wayne Has Driven Us Insane

“Aw, geez, now they’re REALLY gonna try to take my guns….!”

As the news started to roll in from Newtown, CT, on December 14, I overheard that reaction – and maybe you overheard it, too, or maybe you said or thought it yourself. Let’s not rehash the heated discussions that followed the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary; those discussions, after all, have been repeated, practically word-for-word, so many times in recent years that we could probably repeat each side’s talking points in our sleep.

The guy whose mutterings I overheard isn’t a bad fellow, or a wild-eyed “gun nut” – he’s actually quite intelligent and kind-hearted. The same is true of another acquaintance of mine, who corralled me on the sidewalk a couple of days later just to make sure I understood his pro-gun viewpoints. But there’s a simple reason why one of the first responses of these otherwise reasonable men to the painful human tragedy of Newtown was to think, not just of the bereaved families or the shattered community, but of the possible consequences to their own lives, and specifically to fear the nightmare of government confiscation.

They had been trained, assiduously and over years, to think that way. And the man who trained them is named Wayne LaPierre.

LaPierre, as you probably know, is presently the CEO and Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and its most public spokesman since the resignation of former NRA President Charlton Heston. LaPierre has carried on the incendiary, fear-mongering tradition of the “New Guard” that took over the NRA more than a generation ago. (For a fascinating history of the transformations that the NRA underwent during the 1970s, see this.)

In his speeches and fundraising campaigns, LaPierre has perfected the art of invoking the bogeyman. In 1995, LaPierre sent out a letter describing federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents as “jack-booted thugs” that could “…take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us.” (That letter, by the way, led former president, and NRA life member, George H. W. Bush to publicly terminate his membership in the NRA.) Here’s LaPierre in a fundraising letter after the 9/11 attacks: “Your guns are now a target in the war on terrorism, and the future of your Second Amendment rights will soon be up for grabs on the floors of the U.S. House and Senate.” (For more LaPierre gems, look here.) Each polemic, of course, is accompanied by a plea to “send the most generous contribution you can,” and when appropriate, exhortations to vote – usually for Republicans. Any suggestion of any kind of gun or ammunition control is painted as the first step in a slippery slope that ends in firearm confiscation and the enslavement of “law-abiding citizens.”

His techniques have been enormously successful for the NRA – both in terms of money and political clout – but they have poisoned the very atmosphere, and made rational discussion about guns among American citizens almost impossible. These tactics have led gun owners to adopt a kind of “bunker mentality,” and also fed the suspicions of the non-gun-owning public. They have not actually served the best interests either of gun owners or of the American public in general.

I therefore encourage you, dear readers, whatever your stance about guns, to contact individual NRA board members and urge them to dismiss LaPierre immediately. I believe that no other single action could do more to lessen the mutual fear and distrust now present in this country. With LaPierre out of the picture, we may be able to have a productive dialogue; as long as he has any say in the matter, we will only continue to rehash the same tired arguments, and replay the tragedy of Sandy Hook (and Aurora, and Blacksburg, and Columbine, and…) again and again and again.