The Bad Old Days (2)

Someone once told me that I’m the kind of guy who runs toward a fight. He said it like it was a bad thing – pretty much because I was fighting with him at the time – but I never forgot it, and have since taken it as a badge of honor. There’s nothing wrong with running to the sound of the guns if the struggle is brutal, vital, and in need of another body, especially if one more person can make a difference.

It is high summer, the slow time in this business, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about running toward fights, about how many fights I’ve charged into, and especially about how many others charged in with me. You were there, and if you weren’t, you know someone who was. There were millions of us, and every time I ran to the sound of those guns, I rubbed shoulders with the best people this country has to offer.

You remember how bad a time it was, right? It started with Bush v. Gore, and went from there into a bunch of faith-based baloney, a huge tax cut for rich people who didn’t need it then and need it less now, a ban on stem cell research because sick people can screw themselves…and that was only nine months and ten days into the beginning of the last decade.

It got so much worse on the eleventh day.

After the Towers came down, everyone looked at the blue sky above as if it was the enemy itself while retrieving their mail with oven mitts because someone put anthrax into the system and totally got away with it. The American Taliban got on their horse – represented chiefly by an attorney general who couldn’t stomach bare breasts on a statue – and passed the PATRIOT Act, the Homeland Security Act, withdrew from the ABM treaty, all the while smiling a “What, me worry?” smile through the Enron collapse (which was, by the by, a fairly accurate road sign for what we’re dealing with today).

Yeah, the fear. Remember? Back when having a flag on your car or house or lapel was required, and anyone who asked questions or cautioned restraint was part of the “other” and maybe on a list? Remember plastic sheeting and duct tape? I do. I specifically remember talking to a hotel manager in upstate New York in her office about an event, and piled in the corner were several bales of sheeting surrounded by three full bricks of gray tape, and I was aghast, and she didn’t understand why, because, well, the president said she needed it to protect herself, and that was that.

It was the fear that put us in Afghanistan, and never mind the Turkmenistan pipeline. It was the fear that put us in Iraq, the vacant threat of weapons of mass destruction that some of us called “Bullshit!” on to little or no avail. Paul Wellstone maybe could have done something to stop it, but he died on the doorstep of the war. I was passing through a tollbooth on the way to a pre-war anti-war protest when I got the word that he was gone; I can close my eyes and see that shattering moment as if it happened yesterday.

After that? Daniel Pearl. The Chavez coup attempt. The DC snipers. Sharks. Colin Powell lying to the UN and the world. The invasion, again, and Mission Accomplished. Mad cow. Madrid. Abu Ghraib. Nick Berg’s head. Jeddah. The 9/11 Commission and whitewash for all, because “No one could have anticipated.” Bush wins again. Giuliana Sgrena is assassinated. London is bombed. The Danes deal with Mohammed riots. Bali. The Kashmir earthquake. Bird flu. Mumbai. Lebanon. Oil hits $100 a barrel. The US economy collapses. Thousands, millions, die with no justice, dozens a day at minimum, every day, over all these years.

You get the idea. You were there. Like as not, you charged in against these things, some or all, like I did.

In these hot, quiet summer moments, I’ve been remembering all these damnable awful things. Through all those moments, it was terrible on a personal and professional level, also. In the Truthout house, back in the day, there were serial episodes of harassment and dismissal at the whim of an allegedly all-powerful con man who subsidized his lifestyle on the backs of better people. There were standing orders to fiddle with donor information, with the threat of immediate termination looming should said fiddling not get done. Thousands of email addresses were stolen to make a mailing list, even though doing so triggered spam blocks and jeopardized the whole operation. Hundreds of thousands of donor dollars were illegally used to buy beach houses, electric cars, motorcycles, trips to Hawaii, and maids that didn’t actually exist.

It was a bad time here, for only one reason, and some of us know where each and every body is buried. It made those dark days even darker. Things are better now, unimaginably so. A cancer was excised, and none too soon. I guess you have to remember the horror of before to see how good you have it now, and I for one see it very clearly. I remember. We all do. Look for the Union label, brothers and sisters.

A guy once said I run toward fights. Damn straight I do. Always have, always will.

What’s the alternative?