50A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.


Back To Life
January 19, 2009
Part way through Gus Van Sant, and Dustin Black’s feature film “Milk,”  there is a rally held at city hall in San Francisco.  It is a tidal wave reaction to the passage of a Florida law that threatened to fire gay teachers working in public schools circa 1976.  Before a crowd of thousands of angry protesters,  Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) grabs a microphone and invokes two of America’s most revered ideas.  “It is written on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!’” cries Milk.   The crowd roars its approval.  “It is written in the Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!’”

It is an exhilarating, emergent moment in the political history of the United States.  Milk was the first openly gay, publicly elected official.  It took him three tries before breaking the barriers that keep pioneers and the disenfranchised from public acceptance.  Buried deep within his story is a road map to rebuild the character of a nation that has been bludgeoned by forces of harsh attack.  It is a seemingly simple road map, but one that traverses the most fearsome terrain.  The map shows us a way to return to belief.  To listen to the voices of our senior statesmen and women who created the principles of a nation not for political gain, but from the passion of their hearts and the depths of their souls.  It is a place from which emerges an unshakable truth and to which we must not hesitate to return. 

Titled “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus’ famous poem tells us more than we usually remember of the Liberty statue and her intent: 

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome… “Keep Ancient lands,
Your storied pomp!”  cries she
With silent lips.  Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.  From there he built political power for the gay community and passed a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination against its gay, bi and lesbian citizens.  On November 27, 1978 he was assassinated by fellow Supervisor Daniel White.  Milk’s life and his message of hope for America’s disenfranchised is at the heart of what  was and must still be great about our nation.  We are still a land of immigrants; men and women coming to our shores for a new and better life.  We are still empowered by the idea that we have arrived in this life with certain unalienable rights.  And it is vital to remember that elimination of those rights must not be claimed the way to protect them. 

The argument today is that for our nation to be secure and to preserve its freedoms, it must restrict those very same freedoms.  And with each new level of security comes an equal level of restriction.  We have been inundated with this Faustian dilemma.  It is not new.  It has been used by governments and totalitarians across centuries of civilization.  The results are almost always the same - the dissolution of the society that sells its soul in an attempt to preserve it.  Indeed there are very real tradeoffs to be made in the name of security.  But the more isolated and secure we attempt to make ourselves the more isolated and insecure we are from our fellow men.  Some are willing to retreat behind those restrictive walls in the name of self-preservation.  But that is not what our nation was built to do.  We are not a nation of people who hunker down behind walls of indifference.  We are not a nation that says, “I have mine, go get yours somewhere else.”  We are a nation built on risk.  We are a people who in coming here have given up homes, family, community and property.  Our Founders risked their lives in signing a revolutionary declaration.  Our pioneers and entrepreneurs, businessmen and teachers, our soldiers, factory and social workers have all taken risks to provide for their families and children.  Accepting an element of risk is an American way of life.  And we should not be willing to give that up.

What we must be willing to consider is the sacrifice of liberty for security.  And in seeking security the damage to our collective soul.  The Faustian caution holds true.  Once we have sold ourselves to compromise, the walls we build become prison walls.  Our path to dissolution grows wide behind those walls.  Yet just as there is eternal hope in Liberty’s lifted light, there is hope in our refusal to compromise.  Because when we as a nation do the things that we know are true and good and right, we invoke a law of order that has guided us since the beginning.  And that is the belief that in doing what is true and good and right we command the forces of something outside of ourselves.  It is a force far greater and more powerful than even our imagination.  It is here and there and all around us and it need only be summoned by belief to offer its protections. 

Our world is at its most emergent, most precipitous stage of being.  It has positioned us to learn that we cannot survive on self-reliance alone.  Faith, belief and hope are woven in the fabric of our being.  We can continue to honor our traditions and foundations; our belief in inalienable rights and in life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These are the sacred gifts we have been given and must in turn give to others.  We can do so without selling our souls.  We must do so without compromise.  It takes only the firm belief that when we do what we know is right, we will find sanctuary.  We will be given the protection we need.  And we will be ushered forward into a new being where the exchange and teaching of love is our universal guide.  Ms. Lazarus’ poem speaks this in volume and reminds us of the way:

“Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp behind the golden door!”

God bless our still good land and all those who love her.