Monday, March 7, 2011

What Isn't There

When I was a kid I loved the old Battlestar Galactica series. Not the new one, which I have never seen and therefore cannot comment upon. The old one, with Lorne Greene. Yes, I was that uncool. No, I haven’t changed. No, this doesn’t bother me a bit. Thanks for asking.

I never missed an episode. I bought the trading cards. At one point I had one of the plastic toys that they made, the replica fighters that actually shot little plastic laser beams. I probably still have it somewhere.

I even bought the novelization. It wasn’t great literature, but it was exactly the sort of thing a nerdy 7th-grader needed to get through the late 1970s.

And it taught me something useful. You take your life lessons where you can find them.

Throughout the book the Lorne Greene character muses into whatever passed for a diary in his society – every chapter is preceded by a snippet along these lines – and one of those times has always stuck with me. In that entry he elaborated on what wasn’t there.

“When everything appeared to be in place and everything was placid, it was time to consider what was absent.”

I have found this to be good advice, even in less than placid times.

Often what isn’t there is far more important than what is there. Often what isn’t there tells more of the story than what is there. Often you miss what really matters when you focus only on what is in front of you rather than on what might or ought to have been in front of you.

I have been thinking about this lesson a great deal during the Wisconsin phase of the Teabagger War on America. And it doesn’t seem to me that many other people have.

The protests have been going on for over three weeks now. There have been hundreds of thousands of people up at the Capitol, all told – tens of thousands on most days, over a hundred thousand at least once. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen how they have gone. I’ve spoken with protesters. I’ve spoken with police officers. I brought my children with me and never felt this was in any way uncomfortable or ill advised.

The protests have become the focus of national attention, with leaders from all over the country weighing in. There have been speeches and rallies all across the United States supporting the protesters, urging us to stand strong against Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). There have been editorials and programs on networks and publications across the political spectrum doing the same.

There have been intense passions raised.

And yet, and yet, one must pay attention to what isn’t there.

In three-plus weeks of protests in Madison, involving hundreds of thousands of people and a police presence more appropriate to a Papal visit than a political rally, there have been a grand total of fifteen arrests. None of them were for violent offenses. Not. One.

Not a single political leader on the protesters’ side has ever once mouthed off about “Second Amendment solutions” to the current situation. Not. One.

The violence, real and threatened, from the right wing that we have come to expect as normal political practice these days - the phony-warrior rhetoric and the assault weapons carried into demonstrations and the assassination attempts that the deluded are inspired to try because of such practices - that’s what isn’t there.

Instead there has been a successful effort to maintain decorum and civility that the right wing in this country would do well to emulate.

The Capitol has been cleaned by the protesters, and the professional cleaners were left with little to do. The building itself – a historic site – has been treated with a respect that has impressed the National Trust for Historic Preservation, no matter what lies Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has tried to spread.

There has been volume and passion, but no violence or threats. There have been shouts and chants, but no violence or threats. And when national talking heads have claimed victimhood for such things, they have been conclusively shown to be lying.

Notice what isn’t there.

It isn’t there, no matter how much the right-wing noise machine tries to make it seem as if it is. Perhaps they cannot imagine a protest without it. Perhaps they have forgotten what it means to be a citizen of a republic, to face opposition and respond with ideas and argument instead of threats and violence.

Perhaps they should learn. Because this is what democracy looks like.

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