|Heroes of the World|
|Written by Peter Hagerty, co-founder of Peace Fleece, March 1, 2003|
Fear is an epidemic spreading through this country. Have you been watching the news lately, be it the big three, cable or public TV? We are maintaining a vigil of fear, fear of the dark skinned person on the subway, fear of fellow passengers on the plane, fear of Osama, fear that we may not see our 5th grader alive again. Whether it is the foreboding music that opens the news every night or the stories of violence themselves, the media knows the power that fear has to sell advertising and spark ratings. This obsession has reached an all time high over the last few months. From the Orange Alert status to the star-studded cast of generals that will give us play-by-play coverage of Bush's war, this match up between good and evil is being billed as the welcomed to Monday night football.>
I am just starting to realize how powerful an emotion fear is and how it is nurtured and perpetuated by our media on every level. My daughter Josephine is an actress in New York and she was just 13 blocks away from the Trade Towers on Sept 11. For months afterwards when her subway car was stopped far underground for no apparent reason, the events of 9/11 flooded back into her mind and fear raised its ugly head again. But during these dark moments she began to see extraordinary acts of courage begin to happen. Strangers comforted each other, passing over a hankie, showing simple acts of kindness that had for too long been absent from the mean streets and subways of New York.
This fall Josephine was cast to play the lead in "The Diary of Anne Frank". When the Nazis entered Amsterdam in 1941, Anne was just a young girl, full of life and love. She now had to spend all her days and nights in an overcrowded attic in the fear of being found and killed. "When I started working on this play, I became very emotionally tied to Anne and had no trouble identifying with her fear. For months during rehearsal, I wept openly, had ferocious nightmares at night. But as my character developed and I grew to know Anne Frank, I realized that she had done something in her short life that I had not yet been able to do. She had taken this crippling fear of death we both shared and translated it into a much more powerful force, a desire to write a diary and tell the world about her life, her intimate hopes and dreams. Where I was consumed by fear, Anne rose above it and used its power to write one of the most important documents of her time".
While in Manhattan visiting my daughter, I went to see Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" which I now believe to be one of the most important films I will see in my lifetime. I highly recommend it as a tool to make sense of where we are today as a country. To find out where it is playing near you, just go to the Columbine site. and type in your zip code. As I was leaving the theatre, I spotted a woman wearing our Peace Fleece Beaded Braided hat just like the one I was wearing and we shared a warm greeting. At the end of the film there was applause and for a moment we all seemed like a group of friends. We had all been through something special.
Michael Moore's message is clear. Fear in America is fed by the media. This same fear is then harnessed by our government for political and economic gain. One consequence of this fear has been a devastating loss of human life. Why is it that only American children bring guns to school and kill their classmates? Why does Canada whose people own just as many guns as Americans, have 161 murders to our 11,568 every year. In "Bowling for Columbine" Michael Moore shows us that the average Canadian, even the urban citizen of Toronto living just across the bridge from the murder capitol Detroit, does not lock their doors. Canadian television does not obsess on violence and consequently there seems to be less fear and certainly less killing. There is no doubt in the minds of the American journalists Michael interviews. "Given an exchange of gunfire and a drowning accident, we will always cover the gunfire first," says a veteran cameraman from East Los Angeles. "It is what our viewers want".
My son Silas was recently in New York filming the demonstration to stop the war in Iraq. He had come to film a peace rally but after several hours of speakers, he felt the tension mounting between demonstrators who wanted to march to the UN and the police who stood in their way. President Bush earlier had called Mayor Bloomberg and asked him to deny the marchers a parade permit, heightening the tensions.
"I had come to New York City to help promote peace. But no sooner had we arrived than we were corralled and funneled into groups. We were all so different, yet we agreed on one thing, no war in Iraq."
"Days after the protest, I reviewed the footage I had taken. Police, violence frothing horses. As I edited, I saw how I had been drawn to the violence and the fear. In some ways I now feel ashamed that I had been so focused on when the next person was going to get hit or trampled. I came for peace but was drawn to fear."
So what can one person do? I remember being asked the same question by my neighbor as he cleaned out his cow stalls during the cold war. Living on a back road in rural Maine then, it was easy to feel overpowered by it all and let our politicians make the hard decisions. So what can I do?
For me, I must keep traveling, I must say no to the fear of terrorists bringing down my airplane and yes to my friends who greet me at the end of my flights. I must say no to the evening news and yes to the Friday morning meetings in our small downtown restaurant to plan our next community action. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are".
I must say no to duct tape, gas masks and plastic rooms and yes to stopping this madness now. I must stay young with my dreams and listen to my children and their friends and not get in the way of the answer when it is staring me in the face.
As Rosie Perez said in her opening remarks in New York, "I was afraid this morning, but now I look out at all you people and see how brave you all are. I started to wonder if there were heroes any more but now I see the heroes of the world standing here in front of me and my fear is gone."
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