[This week I’ll be highlighting American things for which I’m thankful. Feel free to suggest your own topics in the comments, or send your own guest posts to me by email [firstname.lastname@example.org]. This is the second in the series.]
It might seem hard to find much for which to give thanks in the police brutality that unfolded late last week on the campus of UC Davis, when protesters with the Occupy UC Davis movement were (as the multiple photos and videos of the incident all too clearly demonstrate) dispassionately and unnecessarily pepper-sprayed by riot-gear-clad police, apparently for not moving when asked. But in both the immediate and the longer-term aftermath of the incident, I can in fact find three distinct American things for which I would give thanks:
1) The restraint and nobility of civil disobedience: With its roots in Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849) and its central presence in the Civil Rights era (as emblematized by the iconic images of marchers being attacked with fire hoses and dogs and refusing either to retreat or to respond with violence), civil disobedience, sometimes erroneously called “passive resistance” (I can imagine few things more active), is as American as it gets. All you have to do is watch the Occupy protesters in this video (especially around the 4-5 minute mark), or even more clearly the silent protest against the UC Chancellor captured here, to see how much the protesters in these instances lived up to this legacy.
2) The courage of his convictions: In the aftermath of that Chancellor’s questionable actions (she was the one who had ordered the police to evict the protesters) and thoroughly despicable response to the brutality (including classic passive verb usage and blaming of the victims), an open letter calling for her resignation went viral and became a petition. The letter is very well-written and compelling, which is no surprise as it was written by Dr. Nathan Brown, an English professor at UC Davis. An untenured assistant professor, to be exact—and thus a colleague who is very willing to risk his own career in order to express his clear and important perspective on what had happened on his campus.
3) Great American journalism is alive and well: And, often, available for free on blogs (no, not self-promoting, I promise). As is so often the case when it comes to issues of civil liberties and rights, no journalistic voice has responded more passionately and powerfully to this incident than Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald. As is equally often the case when it comes to framing individual events in larger communal and social contexts, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is doing great work. And as is just as often the case when it comes to considering the broader historical and ethical sweep of an event and of our current moment, Coates’s colleague James Fallows is a must-read.
In a moment as (frequently) ugly as this one, I give thanks for all those inspirational Americans. More tomorrow,
PS. Links above, so I’ll repeat again this week’s request: any American things you’re thankful for? Ideas, and even guest posts, very very welcome!
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