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For freedom's sake, people need to speak up for what's right

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

When I was a kid, my dad used to remind us of the quote: "My right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins." It was a clear, simple picture of the structure of freedom in society. Freedom ends at the point of violent contact.

I've been thinking lately of my dad's quote, because of the violence sparked by differing opinions about the war. Clear and simple as it may be, it gets deeper and truer the older I get. Freedom ends at the point of violence, fear, intimidation. It ends when I succumb to fear, when I become silent in the face of intimidation, when I decide that my right to swing my arm does not end where your nose begins.

I have succumbed! I have stood voiceless and numb in the face of the violence, rage, entitlement and intimidation that seems to have invaded our human community here and for as far as the heart can see.

Maybe those of us who respond to pain by hurting and threatening other people just really are not able to stop that arm from swinging. But those of us who respond to pain by becoming silent are contributing as much to the death of freedom as those who intimidate us. When I am silent, I give the nod to violence. I acquiesce to it.

I have always wondered what I would have done if I had been one of the hunted ones in Nazi Germany or even more to the point, if I had been there and seen what was happening to my neighbors and was able to stay put and stay safe as long as I stayed silent. I have wondered what I would have done if I had been called up before the committee in the McCarthy era. It's obvious what needed to be done to be said but intimidation made it seem impossible. So it was impossible. Extreme examples? That is not how it feels to me. Nazi Germany, McCarthy era, fear tactics and might-is-right thinking is exactly how it feels to me here. Now.

This is how freedom is crushed: intimidation, entitlement, violence, silence.

Silence.

When I hold a deep opinion, or when I am profoundly engaged emotionally, it may feel like a physical blow for someone to voice a different opinion. That's why the point at which one's "nose begins" has become abstract. But it is not a blow. It is an opinion deeply held or whimsical, it doesn't matter. It is not a blow.

It's time to become clear and simple. That point where my right to swing my arm ends is the point of violence and the threat of violence to intimidate into silence. That's where freedom is violated.

In the name of freedom, I am going to make an effort to find a free voice in the face of it in the teeth of it whether it be water, threats or whatever else I may fear. In the end, in spite of all the publicity, I believe there are far more of us who believe in each other's rights to assemble, to think and to nonviolently make our feelings, hopes and fears known to our community. I encourage others to find a voice and to let it be heard, that the robust freedom we all say we believe in will be restored here, and wherever the American vision is considered to be of value.

Carol Ford, Nikiski



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