Saturday, July 2, 2011


It's the 4th of July weekend, so we're saluting an American hero, Abbie Hoffman, a former civil rights worker who organized voters in Mississippi and went on to organize protests against the Vietnam War and the Nixon war machine. In another country, we might call him a dissident. Here in America, we confuse patriotism with jingoism, conservatism and militarism, but Abbie believed in the essence of America, and not just on paper--he actually practiced our guaranteed constitutional right to protest, our right to freedom of assembly, our right to freedom of association, and our right to freedom of speech. Sure, he was a wiseacre and a smart aleck, and didn't always behave himself. Yes, he spit in Nixon's eye at the height of the president's popularity, but Tricky Dick had it coming. Sure, he was a troublemaker, but he represented American values more than all the phony flagwavers who carry teabags, more than the stuffed shirts exchanging business cards at the Chamber of Commerce luncheons, more than the gladhanders making empty promises and pocketing contributions, more than the bible-thumping hatemongers who praise Jesus but only worship power. Abbie wrapped himself in the flag, too, and was promptly arrested for it, and in the process educated us about the way power plays favorites. This weekend, as we sidle up to picnics to fill our Old Glory paper plates, let's not confuse liberty with hot dogs and sparklers and the flatulence of brass bands playing marching music on Main Street. Let's not be snookered by the accouterments. It ain't about that, bub. Maybe, just maybe the American spirit is less about bombs bursting in air and the GNP, and more about the kid--the ornery one who doesn't always mind his manners--who shouts from the back of the adoring crowd that the emperor has no clothes.

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