I was driving along yesterday, listening to the radio, when musician Makana came on the air for a live interview.
“You're my hero,” gushed the programmer, echoing the sentiments of thousands who have left comments on the youtube posting of the protest song he sang at last Saturday's dinner for APEC's big cheese, as well as the many web accounts of his subversive action.
I've been fascinated by the response to Makana's decision to sing that song because it again raises the question: why is it so hard for Americans to speak truth to power? Even in, as Makana described his own actions, “a low-key, subliminal way?”
Some have attributed the reticence of locals to speak up to the lingering effects of “plantation mentality,” but that doesn't explain the apparently fear-driven silence among so many on the U.S. mainland.
Henry Curtis broaches the same topic on Disappeared News, recounting a litany of wrongdoings, from the bank bailouts through the atomic tests in the Marshall Islands to Honolulu police surveillance of an interfaith gathering in Waikiki, while repeatedly asking, “where are the voices of passion and justice?”
To be sure, there have been some voices of passion and justice raised; indeed, generalized outrage is largely what's fueling the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to cities around the world.
But even though thousands have recently taken to the streets in America — a pretty paltry number in a nation with more than 300 million citizens, some 46 million of them impoverished — and hundreds have been arrested, for hundreds of thousands more, it's business as usual, even though at least some of them sympathize with the outrage. As BBC news reports:
Gene Williams, a bond trader, joked to the Associated Press that he was "one of the bad guys" but said he empathised with the demonstrators.
"They have a point in a lot of ways," he said. "The fact of the matter is, there is a schism between the rich and the poor and it's getting wider."
Mike Tupea, a taxi driver and Romanian immigrant, had been stuck amid the traffic and protesters for 40 minutes.
"I have to make a living. I pay $100 for 12 hours for this cab. I am losing money every minute,'" he told Reuters. "I have all my sympathies for this movement but let me do my living, let working people make a living."
Yes, the cops have gotten rough. Some “Occupy” protestors have been tear-gassed, and at least two seriously injured from rubber bullets that police fired into the crowds. But we haven't seen anything even close to the seven-month-long lethal crackdown in Syria that has left some 3,000 dead.
Yet Syrian protestors keep returning to the streets, even in the face of death, while folks in the U.S., who risk little or no danger by exercising their First Amendment rights, are thrilled by the daring of a musician who softly sings a protest song at a dinner of big wigs.
How did people get so fearful, in the near-absence of real threats? Or to put it another way, how did a nation founded on revolution produce such wimps?
Which is not to knock Makana, who has used the publicity surrounding his performance to urge people to “speak truth to power," as well they should. Because even those who don't feel comfortable with civil disobedience surely see wrongs every day that could begin to be righted if they would only speak up and out — or as the Quakers would say, bear witness to truth and integrity.
Surely everyone who is feeling uncomfortable about the state of our nation, the course of the world, can find the courage to at least do that.