An Open Letter to President George W. Bush.
You have worked, as you promised America and the world, to bring Democracy to Iraq. On your last state visit there a young Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at you. You're fast on your feet for a guy in his 60s! You ducked. He didn't hit you. No harm. No foul. You joked afterward that, in part, this happened because of the freedom you brought to Iraq. Your legacy, as it were.
If you truly believe Iraq to be a Democratic country, freed by the war we brought to the land, then insist that the shoe thrower be freed. It is your duty as the self appointed "Spreader of Democracy" to show Iraq how to practice freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to have an opinion. Yes, the man threw something at you, but he gave you a shout out for several seconds before launching the 1st shoe. He pulled back in a stance any major league pitcher would be proud of. They were good throws, but they were not dangerous for a guy as agile as you are. You are used to ducking.
News groups report that your comments, post shoe throwing, were recorded over his screams from the hallway as he was brutally beaten by Iraqi security forces, apparently for embarrassing them. He is, as of this writing, being held without bail and without formal charges. In a democratic country a man could not be publicly beaten "until he cried like a woman", as one witness stated, even for lobbing a couple of size tens at a foreign dignitary, and missing entirely. If the incident happened at home the police force would be sued for damages in court, the officers reprimanded, civil rights groups would weigh in.
If you are to be remembered as you hope, as the liberator of Iraq, liberate the man who denounced you. Sticks and stones can break your bones but shoes hurled across a 10 foot divide after ample warning will serve only to let you know that the Iraqi people are suffering from the price of freedom. I know it is not your right to dictate what the government of Iraq will do to this man but if you ask, publicly, they will set him free. They may take his press pass or do some other fascist thing to silence him. They may yet find a way to use him to teach people that such statements will not be tolerated.
Much worse than that will happen if you don’t act. This man could spend 7 years in prison for expressing his opinion in a country you say is free. That would be a sad day for Iraq, but it would also be a sad day for all of the American soldiers who’ve lost their lives and their limbs fighting for freedom for Iraqis. It would be sad for their families. It would be sad for all Americans, because we have paid so much and so much damage has been done.
Ask for his freedom President Bush, and you will know that one Iraqi citizen, one single man, was not killed or imprisoned for daring to take advantage of the freedom you say they now have. The final thing you can do for Iraq, before you retire to Texas, is to help teach them what a true leader does with dissent. A true leader uses dissent to prove his point.
Former Child Radical
*The title of this blog post is an ode to my mother, Marie Cecilia Ory, a powerful woman who taught me to never let my voice go unheard.
When I was a child my mother was a civil rights organizer and liberal lobbyist in Washington DC and parts South and West of there. During our years in our nation’s capital my mother lobbied for, and won, an opportunity to speak before the Senate/House Finance Committee. The Committee Chairman at the time was a hardline fiscal conservative who had helped to sponsor a bill to cut federal food stamp aid to working single mothers. My mother had only 30 minutes to present her case against the bill and she knew that if she just talked at them she would get no where. As part of a campaign that would include a children’s march on Washington, press coverage, and one on one lobbying of Senators known to be undecided, she needed this presentation to really make an impact.
Mama decided she needed them to be involved with their hands and minds, with thier competitive spirits, not just listening to some hippy organizer blah-blah-blahing so she designed a board game called Shoe On the Other Foot for them to play in order to help them to understand the impact of their decision on the day to day lives of these women and their children. The premise of the game is that you are a low income working mother on food stamps and you have to make it through a month while encountering all of the economic difficulties standard to such a life, without running out of food. She used limited funds from local and national women’s and children’s organizations to purchase basic craft supplies and gathered together a bunch of food stamp mothers and their kids, including her own, to construct the games in the basement of the local Unitarian Church. There was a mimeograph machine (if you are under 40 that is a very old fashioned printer) and big tables and chairs. I was on the dice committee, we made dice out of clay and painted dots on the sides. Some of the children were quite young and so some of the dice didn’t have the correct numbers on all the sides and weren’t perfectly square, but we let that be OK. We glued the mimeographed images of the game board to pieces of card board, put spinners made of binder clasps in the middle and stuffed each envelope with a game board and a set of dice.
A couple of days later, wearing a dashiki (if you are under 40 that is an African style shirt fashionable with hippies during the 60s and 70s) and with my brother (9), sister(6) and myself(8) in tow she walked in to the Committee Hall and when it was her turn to present she had us begin handing out games to each Committee member. The Chairman immediately insisted that she cease and desist but she was ready for him. She read off Committee Regulation #ABC123 (or something like that) and it clearly said that the presenter could use any means of discourse they chose as long as it was not illegal or immoral and that the Committee members were required to participate if needed to advance the demonstration. I hope they never changed that rule.
Each Committee member set up his board and we all began to play. Mama would have everyone roll and move together and she went down the line asking each person to read one of their plays out loud for the Committee. When it was the Committee Chair’s turn he read his place on the board. It said:
It is the 25th of the month. You have $5 in cash in your wallet, no money in your bank account and you don’t get paid until the 1st. Your food stamps are gone and will not come again until the 5th. You have just enough food in the house to make it until payday if neither of the children gets sick and has to eat breakfast and lunch at home for the day. You are cooking dinner and a cockroach falls into the stew.
Do you a) pick it out and eat it anyway? b) leave it in for extra protein? c) throw the stew away and spend your last $5 replacing the food, knowing it will leave you without emergency funds for 6 days?
The Chairman, after reading this said that he did not believe these were his only choices. My mother, excited that she had hooked the big one, said to him that she would be interested to hear what he thought his other choices might be. He said family would help, or neighbors. She said that if you had family with money or lived in neighborhoods where people had money you wouldn’t be on food stamps. He said you could borrow it from your boss, or somewhere... of course, in the end, he had to admit defeat and choose from the list she had given him. He chose to eat the food. He was a fiscal conservative after all. He wasn’t going to end up at the end of the month with no money.
My mother considered it her greatest single victory as an agitator, demonstrator, organizer, lobbyist and over all pain in the administration’s ass that the Chairman of the Senate/House Finance Committee later withdrew his support from that bill. It was his own bill. The bill was defeated by a narrow margin in a strongly republican administration. All because he had to walk in someone else’s shoes for just 30 minutes.