The last seven days have made a week to remember. We started off with Imus in the Morning, abruptly returned to the Duke rape case, and now find ourselves facing the unimaginable tragedy at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, troubling scenes from Iraq and Afghanistan of U.S. soldiers (and locals) being maimed and killed, only escalate. All this activity makes one wonder if we have momentarily lost our senses. • Could it be true, for instance, that a relatively silent but corrosive racism lingers just beneath the surface of society – and that it exists to a much greater extent than we are willing to admit or deal with?
• How was it that a popularly-elected district attorney could hijack a case that put three college-aged kids through hell, while much of society stood by and cheered him on, reflexively assuming the students were guilty?
• How many U.S. soldiers must die – and how many Iraqi and Afghan people must perish – before there is an open and honest debate over a real course for this war. How long will we allow our leaders, news media, and others simply to use the war for rhetorical and political games?
• At what point are we willing to tell demagogues to go home with their belligerent and hurtful words – no matter their political party, race, or religion? When will we tell them to stop polluting our public square?
• What should we say to kids across America about the situation at Virginia Tech? Is it that something in society has gone awry, or are they to believe that such violence – from Virginia Tech to Columbine to 9/11 to the war overseas – is just part of their times?
My own sense is that while most people want to find ways to remain safe and secure, sometimes even withdrawing form the larger society, they believe deeply that events such as those we have witnessed this week require a response. There is a yearning among people to reconnect; a desire to give better shape to our society; a hope that we can take a different course.
To make our aspirations real will require that we reclaim the public square – nothing less. I say this not to promote one particular position or another on some specific challenge. Instead, my point is that changing our path requires that we engage with the kinds of questions I listed earlier – with our kids, with each other, with leaders.
We must know that there is no magic mechanism for easily engaging all of us on such topics; there is no single way to cultivate and harness our public sentiments and ultimately our political will to change course.
The starting point is with each of us – to make these issues our own, to make our voices heard (from discussions at home and in our schools, through polls and town meetings, to call-in shows, etc), and to make clear what we hold to be valuable. Then we can feel more safe and secure, and possibly make sense of these trying times.
We can each start now in our own small ways. Eventually such efforts do make a difference, because eventually they do get heard. That’s how we see movement, however big or small, on such concerns as the war and global climate change and various local issues.
If you agree with me, pass this entry along to others. Talk with them. We can reclaim the public square, piece by piece.