Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Rockets' Red Glare and Bursting Bombs

I've been holding back on on this post because I freaked myself out for awhile and didn't know that I wanted to tell anyone about it. Also, it might reveal an embarrassing detail about myself. But, you know, I've just got to put this out there because it's still stuck in my mind and it feels right... I apologize if this runs a little long but I encourage you to read the whole thing because that will do more to stoke my ego. It's a true story.

First I'll start by disclosing that I'm a nerd and a loser because one of my favorite things about living here in New Orleans is the Tulane Green Wave men's basketball team. I'm not just a fan, I think I might be obsessed. I can name every player on the roster and tell you all about their games. I can tell you that Dave Dickerson and his boys will be making a surprisingly big splash in Conference USA this year.

I'm such a nerd and loser, as a matter of fact, that I went to last Thursday's exhibition game against Loyola, without my usual nerd krewe, and I sat by myself.

I just HAD to see how much time redshirt freshman Johnny Mayhanne would get. What about transfer guard Eric Vianney? Would freshman recruit Kris Richard get any playing time? Are the seniors pumped up about the season?

All of these thoughts kept running through my head. I couldn't wait to call up the friends that usually come to the games with me and give them my scouting report... How do the Shockwave Dancers look this year? New moves? Is Fogelman Arena in midseason form? I took mental notes... I was so excited for college basketball season...

But then the arena PA guy interrupted my thoughts -

"will everyone please rise for the national anthem"

Ugh, I was just getting comfortable. But I got up, as did everyone else, albeit more reluctantly than in better times... Others grumbled as well."

My thoughts changed. I stopped thinking about whether Kevin Sims could cut down on this turnovers as a sophomore. And my emotions turned too. I wasn't excited anymore. I was angry.

Different sorts of things started popping into my head:

Iraq. Torture. An inept Congress.

The crowd turned and faced the arena's flag. I turned with them.

Domestic spying. Suppression of science. Overall executive branch authoritarianism.

The national anthem began sounding from the speakers.

Lies. Levees. Habeas Corpus.

I looked to my left, my right, and back at the flag.

Impending WWIII, Electoral improprieties. Healthcare crisis. Education. Corporate influence. Possible recession. Global warming. Blackwater. More spying. More lying. Less levees. Inconvenient facts counter to our images of American heroism and idealism in history.

Only a few lines of the anthem had been sung. But I turned around and as people started to look, I said aloud, "fuck this, not today," and I sat down. People laughed but I was red hot. I've always stood for the anthem but I wasn't going to this time. "Screw this. I read the paper every day. I see what's going on. I'm not doing this shit."

Someone asked, "so you're not American?" I said, "I guess I'm about not to be."

Another person said "I feel like doin' what he's doin'." But nobody else did as I sat there until the anthem finished and everyone joined me in their seats.

For me, this was big. For a while now, I've been talking with lots of different people, from friends to strangers about our collective dissatisfaction with the direction of this country. It's really bad right now. What happened to peace and prosperity? How long will I stand to fund these types of policies with my tax dollars? We talk about what might happen if there's a President Thompson, a President Giuliani, a President McCain, or a President Romney. Will the downward direction of the United States continue? Is this really a place I want to be raising children?

Over one century ago, my ancestors came to this land on a dirty boat from different parts of Eastern and Central Europe. They came carrying the clothes on their backs and maybe a beat up suitcase. They scrapped and clawed to get on their feet. They lived in rat-infested tenements in Manhattan. They walked eight miles to and from school uphill both ways in the snow. They were poor. They struggled. But they believed that the United States would provide a better future for their children and grandchildren. They were immigrants.

They left their homes and their families - a difficult decision, but one that was definitely in their best self interests because this place has been so so good for us. We've given back so much love in thanks; my grandfathers served in WWII and my mother and father are community activists in Philadelphia. We love our communities and our neighbors!

But I don't forget what my ancestors did when they felt they had to.

My ancestors - my great grandparents - and I are not so different. I too own a suitcase and have clothes on my back.

They keep telling me and people like me that we're not patriotic, that we don't support the troops, that we must want the Islamofacists to win - and I'm tired of it. Maybe they're right, I don't love America as much as they do. It's because, instead, I love my family and value the ethics we share.

So if my country's government continues to be one that evokes my anger and fear rather than one that inspires my pride and service, I must do what is right for my family and do as my ancestors once did.

I've been to other countries before.

In other countries, they don't lock people up for years for nonviolent activities, they provide free health care, all qualified students go to college for free, all workers get vacations and pensions, their governments don't go to war for corporate dividends, they don't have murders on the streets all the time, and so on and so forth.

...and I'm aware of all of these things...

I want so badly to stay for ever and ever. I want to retire to Philadelphia and go to every single Phillies game every summer with my totally hot wife until I die. But I'll do what is best for me and my family.

I still feel weird about my outburst at the basketball game. It's not something I expected to do. It just happened.

What will happen this Friday at Fogelman Arena when YOUR Tulane Green Wave take on the Auburn Tigers to officially kick off the season?
Will I stay seated this time? Will I recover to swallow hard and stand?
Can the Green Wave make the NIT this year?

November 2008 and the first 120 or so days of 2009 will determine a lot about the future of this country and the future of e. I suspect there are a lot of people out who are considering the same difficult choice, not including my group of freedom-hating friends, acquaintances, and strangers already fretting over this sad reality.


charlotte said...

What you did was brave and true to yourself. I can't help but think there may have been a different outcome for you in a less enlightened /less tolerant city/state/location.

I feel as disillusioned as you but, when I hear the national anthem, I think about the people who settled this country and how hard fought and hard won their freedom was. I honor THEM when I stand.

Leigh C. said...

At least it wasn't an arena football game. They have begun to make the pregame shows propaganda sessions for the armed forces, complete with an induction ceremony of new recruits and a performance by a military band. Yes, one of the AFL's sponsors is the U.S. Army, but I was so relieved that I missed that ceremony.

The more one becomes educated about what is happening here, the less one would want to honor the flag. At the same time, I do like that that, in the song, after all the damned rockets and bombs have done their thing, the flag, and what it represents, is still there.

Screw the induction ceremonies.

Gimme that flag.

Josh said...


I really like this post for a number of reasons, but to keep things short, I completely understand your sentiments towards the singing of the national anthem. And I'd even like to take it a step further to say that the fact that it is played at all at sporting events is sort of fucked up. It feels like propaganda - people stand for 2 minutes and recite this song whose lyrics are often not even known by the athletes themselves. What ARE we uniting behind exactly?

There is definitely some sort of collective unconscious, whereby a song can transcend some sort of catastrophe and heal a large group of people. But the national anthem doesn't feel like that. Powerful songs include, but are not limited to, "Give Peace a Chance", "What's Going On", and others. The national anthem was written about the war of 1812 for goodness' sake.

Too conclude, I will say that come March Madness, the Pirates of Seton Hall University welcome a challenge from the Green Wave, should the tourney pan out that way.

Sophmom said...

I wish I had some kind of wisdom to offer, but I doubt I do. It's hard not to feel hopeless *these days* but the song belongs to those of us who oppose and fight the direction this country is taking, just as much as it does to the lying, thieving, fear-mongers who wrapped themselves in our flag, held their Bibles high, took power and continue to plunder (for lack of a better word).

I can't imagine leaving though. My people have been here forever, or as close to forever as "here" has. I will stay and fight, win or lose. And I will stand and sing in defiance because it's my song, and my flag, and even my Bible too.

Really, really, really great post, E.

N. Hanks said...

Think: I sympathize with your reactions. We're in trouble here in America. In fact, the world is in trouble. Here's an alternative to leaving: Stay and fight! We have an unfinished American Revolution to conduct and ordinary people will lead it. We could use your help.

Mark said...

Your post raises a few questions for me. First, when singing the National Anthem, or stating the pledge of Allegiance, or doing anything that's deemable as "patriotic," what are we actually saying? I tend to disagree that it's a statement about current events or policies. It has a lot more to do with broader national and cultural principles (even if some of them have been done away with by current leaders). I think standing at the national anthem does not necessarily indicate that you agree with even one view expressed by the majority party.

Clearly, for most American citizens, citizenship was not a rational choice (though for some it was). I think you are going through the process of rationally evaulating that citizenship. I encourage you to try to see beyond current trends in thoughts, or at least to evaluate aspects of America that are more transcendant than domestic spying or Cindy Sheehan. Not that these will ultimately outweigh what is going on now, but just that they, too, are important. As the student of American History that I know you are, I trust you will do this before making a decision.

I, too, have had similar reactions to patriotic expressions, but for a slightly different reason. In general, I have often felt public patriotism to be an institutionalized form of peer pressure. I question that every person at the Flyers game who stands for the Anthem feels as strongly as the next about America. I feel some do it more for fear that another will question their patriotism (as I have just done). So the motivator becomes fear (of disapproval)rather than affection or appreciation. There is a long list of scholars, writers, and prominent citizens who have questioned public patriotism (among them, Mark Twain) for these reasons, and I resonate with those condemnations.

For me, it is the public tacit coercion that annoys me about such events rather than the fact that America's current leaders are corrupt and don't reflect my values. Through action, it may still be possible to change that.

E said...

N. Hanks:

"Here's an alternative to leaving: Stay and fight! We have an unfinished American Revolution to conduct and ordinary people will lead it."

Well that is the first choice, no doubt about it, and it always seems so possible in my most idealistic and optimistic moments. It's the other times, like when I see 15 or 20 seconds of cable news, when I start hatching contingency plans involving suitcases. Nobody can say they haven't gone there as well.

Leigh C. said...

Then E, honey, it is now your patriotic duty to save your moolah, give up cable, and use the dough to see Tulane whup ass in the NIT.

E said...

If that's patriotism, then I got it!

Maitri said...

Powerful post, E. You should give it to an audience of thousands some time.

I've lived in the US for 16 years and have been a citizen for 10. When I stand, I salute the potential of this country and ask myself, "Does that star-spangled banner yet wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave? And what am I doing to keep us a free and brave nation?" It's difficult to swallow that lots of Americans do it out of habit or as ceremony. The freedoms of this country ought not to be taken for granted, especially when they are being eroded by the false prophets in power and their spineless henchmen.

John said...

Awesome post...but I'm with Nancy on this. The U.S. is where the power is. If we can get shit moving in the right direction here, the potential is huge. I don't see any revolution coming, but there's definitely a backlash. Let's ride that! For me, fighting the system here seems more productive than working with a better system somewhere else.

As for cable news...don't put yourself through that. Hit up NPR. Watching cable news leaves me filled with anger AND less informed about what's going on.

Also, glad to see PBS is losing in your poll. Bill Moyers is where it's at.

E said...

"You should give it to an audience of thousands some time."

Maitri, the whole point of blogging is to launch myself into superstardom! Am I right people?

I've realized of the course of the day that this post just made me unelectable.

E said...

As I continue thinking about this, I'd like to add a couple of things...

Certainly, my bags ain't packed quite yet. I am optimistic about possible 2008 electoral outcomes and don't consider myself a quitter one way or the other. I see myself in Guantanamo as easily as I see myself with an EU passport...

...My decision to sit down in symbolic protest of a symbolic exercise is not really the issue at hand - it's about our collective frustration and angst.

... It's that pit in my stomach when I say where I'm from when I'm traveling abroad.

Mark in the comments, mentions a "rational evaluation of citizenship." I think a lot of people are doing that right now.

I guess there are a lot of different elements here...

At what point do I hold myself accountable for the crimes my government commits against the people of other nations, the people of my own nation? With the ease of mobility these days, voluntary exile can be achieved with the online purchase of a plane ticket. By staying am I not giving some sort of tacit support to what the government is doing?

What do people think of that? At what point do you yourself become guilty of your government's crimes? Can you be considered culpable in that sense? Is voluntary exile a valid form of protest? Do you think it offers any measure of absolution?

That relates to the "push" factors behind exile...

And of course, the "pull factors" including the social service and civil liberty achievements of some nations in Europe only buttress arguments relating to self-interest, etc.

Don't act like y'all haven't had the phrase "President Rudolph Giuliani" pop into your brain before taking a peek at a globe...

ashley said...

Whaddya mean? Outside of the US, hen people ask me "Are you American?", I say "No, I'm from New Orleans". They get it. They know.

I haven't sat down during the anthem, but I have thought that it would be so much more appropriate to play "Louisiana 1927" instead.

I am a New Orleanian. I am peripherally an American.