“On a Quiet Day, I Can Hear Her Breathing”

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”  Those were the last few words of one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve ever encountered.  Written and delivered by peace angel Arundhati Roy at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil, January 27th, 2003, she inspired me to arise from lethargic insouciance and make some noise.  I too have little doubt that another world is on her way, but what will she look like?  Garden of Eden or nuclear wasteland?  Will she be breathing freely or gasping for air?  And if my words of anger are shouted in a forest and nobody hears them, did I really make a sound?  True impotence goes far beyond erectile dysfunction.

About the time Arundhati was rocking Porto Allegre, I joined a few dozen other angry and righteously indignant citizens of Jackson, Wyoming, who were marching in protest of the latest and imminent Bush/Cheney war for corporate profit.  This particular miracle of modern mayhem, though still on the near horizon, was about to begin shocking and aweing the inhabitants of Iraq, and creating lots of spectacular, red, white, and blue military glorification for Empire’s propaganda machine.  The Jackson P.D. caught wind of our little soire, which was planned to take place in the semi-famous elk antler-arched town square, and responded by herding our small group of renegades over to a church lawn, several blocks out of the flow of tourist traffic.  There, safely out of sight and earshot of the good people of Jackson, including snarlin’ Dick Cheney, we made our little speeches, shouted our words of anger, and made not a sound.  Our protest successfully quelled, we screamed out in silent impotence.

In early 2003, I was among the simple-minded who still believed that the U.S.A. was basically a good country.  Oh sure, I’d marched in protest against The Vietnam War, burned a flag, and refused induction into the U.S. Army when my draft lottery number came up, but sadly, in retrospect, that had a whole lot to do with selfish self-preservation.  I certainly had no desire to pick up a gun and kill anybody else, but more than that, I was out to save my own sorry ass.  When the dust settled, and I’d paid my debt to society for turning down the invitation to join its elite corps of murdering slaves, I did my level best to ignore what was happening in the world for about thirty years.  Ignorance was bliss, and my blinders fit snugly and comfortably.

So when Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger armed Suharto in East Timor and celebrated while he slaughtered millions of innocent people, I punched the clock and went to work at my corporate job.  While Ronald Reagan’s proxy army raped, tortured, and strafed its way through Nicaragua, I bought a new car.  As The United States was bombing the tiny nation of Grenada, I took the family on vacation.  When U.S. Military forces destroyed Libya and Panama, I took out a 30 year fixed mortgage on a house.  During the time when George H.W. Bush was raining depleted uranium, poisoning the atmosphere, and killing a million or more children in the first Iraq fiasco, I was bandaging my daughter’s scraped knee.  And when the C.I.A. was spreading murder, mayhem, and Wall Street’s agenda throughout Chile, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and countless little countries which weren’t playing by the rules, I blithely mowed my lawn and drank a beer.  My own silence during those years was deafening. I kept my nose to the grindstone and faithfully paid my taxes to fund the wars I ignored.  I was a good American.

Then in 2003, something snapped, A light went on, and uncomfortable truths started surfacing like bubbles in a Jacuzzi.  My mind was caught up in a perfect storm of information from which there was no escape.  Suddenly it became obvious that the ugly truth was going to confront me and be in my face, no matter which way I turned.  My inner rebel surfaced, and there was no stopping him.  Besides owning and operating a popular local breakfast/lunch restaurant, I was writing a weekly column at the time.  The “Excursion” piece was featured weekly in The Jackson Hole News & Guide.  When my outdoor adventures turned political, and critical of my neighbor Dick Cheney and his gang of thieves in D.C., angry readers’ letters started pouring in.

Since Jackson Hole is full of outdoor enthusiasts, my “Excursion” column was quite popular and widely read.  The firestorm of public debate which ensued was intense.  The ‘Letters to the Editor’ sections of both local papers exploded with rage from both sides of the Iraq War controversy.  The town split in two over the issue and, in the end, my business partnership dissolved and we sold the restaurant.  The end of that era was not due to a lack of business, rather to the angry alienation from half the town.  The local peace movement strongly supported us, but we were shunned by the angry ‘patriotic’ crowd.  It was my fight, and my partner wasn’t interested in joining.

For those of us who recognize the evil of Empire and choose to vocalize our thoughts, there can be bumps in the road.  Often the battle against the Military-Industrial Complex, the wars it spawns, the social injustice, and poverty, seems futile.  A fool’s quest.  Those with the loudest voices are too often silenced.  But the words, wisdom, and passion of J.F.K., Bobby, Martin, Malcolm, and Che live on.  Empire will continue to protect its interests and do whatever is necessary to survive and thrive.  When our voices become loud enough to threaten it, we’ll be squashed like mosquitos.  We know that, yet we persevere.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  Preaching to the choir can be disheartening, and the truth isn’t welcome in most respectable places.  When my battery needs recharging, I return to Arundhati Roy’s Porto Allegre speech for the proper inspiration.

Our strategy should be not only to confront Empire, but to lay siege to it.  To deprive it of oxygen.  To shame it.  To mock it.  With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness-and our ability to tell our own stories.  Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.  The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they’re selling-their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

What more can I add?  We’ve still got a helluva job ahead, boys and girls.  Arlo Guthrie had the best advice for those of us who choose to fight on the side of truth and justice.  “If you want to end war and stuff, you got to sing loud.”  Let’s do it.  Another world is on her way, and I’m pretty sure I can hear her breathing.

John R. Hall, having finally realized that no human being in possession of normal perception has a snowball's chance in hell of changing the course of earth's ongoing trophic avalanche, now studies sorcery with the naguals don Juan Matus and don Carlos Castaneda in the second attention. If you're patient, you might just catch him at his new email address, but if his assemblage point happens to be displaced, it could take a while. That address is: drachman2358@outlook.com Read other articles by John R..