Webster-and-crew's aim way off in water-dousing incident

Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I've gone through a number of reactions to the short video clip "water4ourtroops," which wraps Jeff Webster-and-crew's water-dousing act of civil disobedience in "patriotic" tones and images.

Taking a generous perspective, I've thought, well, in the end, social and psychological aspects aside, a water drenching is at root a fairly harmless act. If I consider Jeff Webster-and-crew's act as intended in the caring tradition of a long U.S. history of civil disobedience, then I do observe that it has stimulated people's thinking and many a valuable conversation. I also enjoy creative efforts of calculated irreverence.

I think U.S. society needs more people acting out in the radical (not conservative) spirit of Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, Tom Paine, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thaddeus Stevens, the Grimke sisters, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Horace Mann, Susan B. Anthony, Wendell Phillips, Peter Cooper, Upton Sinclair, Bishop Sheil, Saul Alinsky and many others including innumerable veterans of the Civil Rights movement.These are people who took huge personal risks to help give birth to the best of American liberties.

Still, even if intended in the constructive spirit of civil disobedience, I think Webster-and-crew's aim with the water-dousing was off. If Jeff became a friend of mine, I would invite him to douse me with water (and a dose of respect and humor) sometime when he'd like me to think more deeply about some issue. Depending on the situation, I could take that, although I probably still would be tempted to douse him in return. Then engage me in a mutual learning-oriented discussion! But to surprise and douse with buckets of water a gentlewoman stranger carrying a sign, "Think About the Children," and then run off? I don't think so.

Whoever responded to Julie Ball's recent letter to the editor on this topic by leaving multiple anonymous intimidating messages on her message machine was way off by my thinking. (As far as I know, the man may not even know Jeff Webster personally.)

Not all activity done in the name of "patriotism" has been exemplary. "Patriotism" has a long history of cloaking hurtful and destructive activity, too. All modern tyrannies have hidden their thuggery at home and abroad behind flags and patriotic slogans and expectations. Demagogues do the same.

These telephone messages strike me as revival of an intimidating variation of "patriotism" that is closely akin to thuggery. As it happens, it was the intimidation effect of the "water4ourtroops" water-dousing that Julie Ball found objectionable.

I'm with Julie there. The soldiers and civilians in my family served for time-honored American ideals like tolerance, dignity of the individual, equality, freedom to speak and assemble, and freedom to be different. I think civil disobedience has its place, and I'd be happy to dialogue respectfully in a spirit of mutual learning with anyone about my political thinking and feeling, but as to surprise attacks, ad hominem attacks, groupthink uniformity in the names of unity and patriotism, and flag-cloaked bullying, I quietly, actively and emphatically say "No."

If anyone would like to engage in mutual learning-oriented dialogue about this or other topics via e-mail, feel free to subscribe to the AlaskaDialogueForum@YahooGroups.com:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlaskaDialogueForum/. This is the listserve's fourth year.

Dan Chay


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