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Elegy for Two Giraffes and a Zebra

by BRUCE JACKSON

This morning’s New York Times had a front page photograph and article about the zoo in Qalqilya on the West Bank. The photograph showed an adult male giraffe, a baby giraffe and, near them, a zebra, on its side. They were all dead, stuffed by a taxidermist. The adult male zebra had died of terror at the sound of gunfire, the baby had been born dead shortly thereafter, the zebra had been killed by teargas. I sat there at my desk and looked at that photograph and I started crying. I thought of all those dead animals, all those destroyed homes and schools and villages and farms, all those dead children and all those dead men and all those dead women and I couldn’t stop crying.

It’s because of them that we are here today. [The students at the University at Buffalo asked Oren Lyons and BRUCE JACKSON] to be the opening speakers for their strike and teach-in yesterday as part of the National One-Day Student Strike for Books Not Bombs.

Because we want no more of that destruction and death and because we know we must raise our voices and say we want no more of that destruction and death.

This isn’t the first time students at this university have risen up to protest a war they thought unjust. There were demonstrations here during the Vietnam War that resulted in the campus being occupied for weeks by hundreds of Buffalo police.

One night, just after Nixon invaded Cambodia, the police fired teargas canisters into a women’s dormitory on Main Street and what was then the Norton Student Union. I have a photograph of a window in that building with nine holes from a policeman’s shotgun, and I used to have one of the teargas canisters from Norton but someone stole it from my office. It was one that had been fired into a Norton stairwell in an attempt to shut down WBFO, the campus radio station, the only station in the city of Buffalo that was broadcasting what was really going on.

Americans got angrier more slowly last time. We know more now. We have the internet so we’re not dependent on the newsreaders at the three networks and biased or limited newspaper coverage for our information.

And this time we have a president who lost the general election who was put into power by a Supreme Court voting on strict ideological lines driving us into a war against the advice and council of every industrialized nation except England.

The Bush administration has dissipated an astonishing amount of goodwill abroad. They’re like the lottery winner who wins the big one and who, a very short time later, doesn’t have enough cash left to pay the insurance on the two SUVs in the driveway. I would have thought it impossible to destroy that goodwill. But they have. In Europe in the winter and spring after 9/11 the Europeans kept picking up the check. Now they talk to us with reserve, in embarrassment, as if some member of our immediate family had just been the subject of a televised prostitution arrest.

Donald Rumsfeld says, “Well, they never liked us anyway.” That’s the depth of insight in our foreign policy: someone disagrees with us and it’s “They never liked us anyway.” I stopped using that excuse for failure in the third grade. When did you stop using it?

The initial phase of this, the Defense Department says, will cost $100 billion-that is twice as much as the federal government budgeted for education last year.

That comes to $800 per American for the first attack. How many people are in your families? How much do your $800 shares in this war come to? How large is the tuition increase just imposed on you? George W. Bush is spending your tuition increase on the first phase of his Iraq war, a war just about nobody else in the world wants. There’s no money for health care, education, housing, infrastructure-but there’s $800 for every living American for the first attack.

That’s not the only attack we have to worry about.

More and more of our foreign students live in fear. They are now being tracked. If they get sick and have to lighten their course load, they can be deported. They fear they could, at any moment, be scooped up by John Ashcroft’s mind police. Many foreign students who are with us in spirit are not here today for that reason.

There are ever increasing assaults on the Bill of Rights. While the Orange Alert was up two weeks ago and they sent you out buying perfectly useless duct tape and plastic sheeting, they were giving more of formerly protected lands to private developers and working harder to bring PATRIOT II to reality. And all the while Bush has been fighting tooth and nail for tax cuts, nearly all of them going to the rich, nearly all of them increasing interest that you will have to pay. One of my students said to me, “What does it matter what we do? They don’t care.”

It may be true that Bush and Ashcroft and Rumsfeld don’t care what you think. But what you do does matter.

I remember hundreds of thousands of people on the Washington mall and then marching to the Pentagon in October 1967. Lyndon Johnson said he was paying no attention. A year later he decided not to run for reelection because he knew he could not win.

I remember hundreds of thousands of people marching through Washington streets in November 1969. Richard Nixon circled the White House with bumper-to-bumper school busses and issued a press release saying he was watching a football game. He wasn’t. He was getting reports on what we were doing in the streets. He too was eventually brought down by his arrogance toward the American people. It took a long time, but he left Washington in disgrace.

Our voices mattered then. Our voices matter now. Our votes mattered then. Our votes matter now.

Do you know that 41% of Americans believe Saddam was directly involved in the September 11, 2001, attack? Do you know that yesterday the Buffalo Common Council defeated an antiwar resolution, mainly because eight of them thought it was unpatriotic ever to oppose a president or because they were among that 41% that doesn’t know the difference between Saddam and bin Laden? They’re in those offices now-the ignorant, the ideologues, the arrogant. But they needn’t be there tomorrow. You vote. You have friends and families who vote. You have a vital self interest in destroying Bush’s isolationism and having the US once again be a responsible member of the world community.

The Internet is your friend. The person standing next to you is your friend (assuming he’s not one of John Ashcroft’s spies). There are more of us than you know and there are more of us every day. Don’t get tired. Don’t get bored. Don’t think you don’t matter-because you do matter. Don’t think we won’t win because we will win. We will win.

BRUCE JACKSON, an ex-marine, is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University of Buffalo. He edits Buffalo Report.

His email address is bjackson@buffalo.edu.

 

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Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

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