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Chapter 2.3

First You've Got to Get Mad

By Tim Hermach

This editorial is reprinted, with permission, from the Forest Voice, Spring/Summer 1997.

In 1977, Paddy Chayefsky penned an academy award-winning script for the movie Network. Perhaps its most memorable and enduring scene showed people all over the country spontaneously opening their windows and yelling, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" at the behest of a TV anchorman fed up with the nation's accelerating and seemingly unsolvable problems.

"I don't have to tell you things are bad," Howard Beale tells his audience. "Everybody knows things are bad... Everybody's out of work, or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it." Beale admits that he, too, doesn't know what to do about the problems besieging the country, but then he adds: "All I know is that first, you've got to get mad. You've got to say, I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value."

Not much has changed in twenty years. In many respects the decline Chayefsky railed about has gotten worse. If you've chosen to remain awake and unanesthetized, the evidence is all around. The global environment continues to come under accelerated corporate assault; the poor are getting poorer and more desperate, middle class jobs and incomes are eroding, and our corrupt, mirror-image political parties remain in obedient servitude to money and the interests of those who have it. The question is: Aren't you angry yet? And if not, what's it going to take?

The cynics will say, "The game is fixed." The despairing will cry, "Why bother?" The defeated will moan, "It can't be done." The self absorbed will lament, "I don't have time."

But those are just the lies we tell ourselves. The most humble among us has a divine spark. It may be dimmed, it can be ignored, it is often doubted, but it cannot be extinguished. For 28 long, brutalizing years an unjust South African regime tried to extinguish Nelson Mandella's light, but he emerged from a prison cell to lead his nation. Mahatma Gandhi owned no property and held no title, but he liberated his country from the British and the hearts of his people--however briefly--from religious and ethnic hatreds. As writer Robert Fulghum observes, "Sometimes history knocks at the most ordinary door to see if anyone is at home. Sometimes someone is."

In his inauguration speech Mandella urged his countrymen not to shrink from their own greatness: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate," said Mandella, "our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure...Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the Glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some. It is in everyone."

Gandhi, living in a subjugated nation of wretched poverty, had neither the means, the freedom, nor the standing to effect change. But he did so nonetheless. How? By example. "My life is my message," said Gandhi. He beseeched his followers to "be the change you wish to see in the world." He asked nothing more of himself or his disciples--just to live in integrity, to stand up for what you believe. To be sure, standing for one's beliefs is an act of courage and commitment. But it requires no special skill, no towering talent, no concentration of wealth, or political acumen. It is, above all, a choice.

Whoever you are, you have a role and a right. The right to your anger, your concern, your passion; and a role in correcting the injustices you see.

Can you type, or answer the phone, or write a letter? You have a role. Are you a young mother concerned for her children's future, or a grandparent troubled by your generation's legacy? You play a part. Are you working in a meaningless job, aching for something beyond the steady drain of your life energy? You have a voice. You are needed. You may be out of work and out of luck, but you are never out of options. Perhaps you are a musician and wonder what you might do?

Vedran Smailovic lives in Sarajevo, a city ravaged by ethnic hatreds expressed in civil war. Robert Fulghum recounts his story and the living tragedy that is Sarajevo. "Demagogues lit bonfires of hatred between citizens who belonged to different religions and ethnic groups. Everyone became an enemy of someone else. None was exempt or safe. Men, women, children, babies, grandparents--old and young--strong and weak--partisan and innocent--all were victims in the end. Many were maimed. Many were killed. Those who did not die lived like animals in the ruins of the city. Except for one man. A musician. A cellist."

Smailovic lived near a bakery where twenty-two people waiting in a bread line were killed by mortar fire. Sniper fire and random shelling were daily occurrences. In the face of unrelenting danger, senseless brutality, and calculated horror, Smailovic wanted to make a statement. But what could a cellist do?

"He came to a certain street corner every day," Fulghum writes. "Dressed in formal black evening clothes, sitting in a fire-charred chair, he played his cello. Knowing he might be shot or beaten, still he played. Day after day he came. To play the most beautiful music he knew. Day after day after day. For twenty-two days.

"His music was stronger than hate. His courage stronger than fear. And in time other musicians were captured by his spirit, and they took their places in the street beside him. These acts of courage were contagious. Anyone who could play an instrument or sing found a place at a street intersection somewhere in the city and made music.

"In time the fighting stopped. The music and the city and the people lived on."

The Serbs and the Croats, the Christians and the Muslims of Sarajevo know what a cellist can do. The place where Smailovic played, Fulghum reports, "has become an informal shrine... [It] commemorates the hope that must never die--that someday, somehow, the best of humanity shall overcome the worst, not through unexpected miracles but through the expected acts of the many."

Do not discount the power of your impact. You make a difference by the mere fact of existing. The question then becomes not how you can make a difference, but do you like the one you're already making? How would the world be different if we all stood unashamedly for what we believed?

Your life has value. Listen to your own music. Do not wait for the mortar fire. Acts of courage and compassion abound. Look for them. Believe as Fulghum does, as Smailovic does, as Mandella does, an Gandhi did, that "the myth of the impossible dream is more powerful than all the facts of history."

Our dream is to save America's forests; to secure a brighter and healthier future for our children. In our own way, we stand on the street corner and relentlessly speak the truth as we know it. For years we were told our dream was impossible. We spoke to everyone, even those devoted to not hearing, and those determined to twist our meaning. And over time, others have joined us. Our voices grow stronger each day, and we will not be silenced. We invite you to join us. If it's a street corner you seek, there is a place for you here.

Table of Contents
Chapter 2 Intro/Chapter 2.1/Chapter 2.2/Chapter 2.3/Chapter 2.4

Copyright (c) 1997-98 OLIFE -- Oregonians for Labor Intensive Forest Economics.
All rights reserved.

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