Monday, September 11, 2006

Exceed yourself

Today, as I post for the third time a list of "three things to do today" I originally wrote on September 11, 2004, I have finally understood what the article is about: exceeding yourself.

So much advice about "appropriate" observances for today boil down to: be small. close ranks. disconnect from larger things. never forget -- to fear and hate. be the least that you can be.

Instead, I'd like to suggest that we mark the day by exceeding ourselves, surpassing the boundaries of our fear and small thinking and tribalism.

My original list follows below, without edits. The shorter version might read:
  1. Think for yourself.
  2. Reach out and connect with your community.
  3. Reach beyond your own community to those who may have cause to be more fearful than you are.
  4. Challenge your assumptions.
I appreciate any suggestions or additions to (either version of) the list.
Three Things to Do Today

1. Turn off your tv. And your radio.
Treat yourself to a régime de jingoisme for one day. Today is a really good day for it.

2. Go to your public library...
...and find out if your local branch is part of the September Project, an international campaign to bring people into public libraries on September 11 to share and discuss about democracy, citizenship, and patriotism through public talks, roundtables, and performances--and register to vote. (And if your library isn't participating this year, you have a whole year to persuade them in time for 2005.)

Progressives often yearn for a way to raise the level of public discourse. Now's our chance.

3. Vote with your wallet...
...for respect, communication, and support. Go and patronize a locally-owned mom and pop business--run by people of middle eastern descent. There is still massive racial profiling against "arab looking" people (whatever that means), there is violence and discrimination against Muslims, and today is an extra scary day for too many people. Show your neighbors that not everyone is a fascist. I'm off for lunch to a Lebanese restaurant I just found on the edge of my neighborhood. It's just a small, compassionate way to say the whole country isn't built on hate.

And the bonus round, for the truly brave among us:

4. Take a book out of the library...
...on learning Arabic, or Middle Eastern history, or Islam. Does the thought send a chill down your spine? Because let's be honest: we know that all those books are likely flagged on the FBI's watchlists through the Patriot Act. In discussions on civil liberties and public surveillance, the common defence of the Patriot Act is "but I have nothing to hide...." If you believe that, then go to your library or book store and bring home a book that will put John Ashcroft's knickers in a knot, knowing that your name (and address, and if you buy the book, your credit card number) is winding up on an FBI list or in a file. And if the idea makes you uncomfortable, you may want to rethink your position on civil liberties...and at the same time, go back to that mom and pop business and spend a little extra money.