Fifteen Years Can Do, a Sad Night in Georgia
by Ellen Finnigan
by Ellen Finnigan: Black
Swan Not So Black and White
I left Georgia
in 1996, the year Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, the year Bill
Clinton was reelected President, the year I graduated from high
school. I haven’t been back much since, except to visit my parents
on the holidays, and that was always what I was doing: visiting
my parents. I was never going home for the holidays because Atlanta
was never home. We are not Southerners and never were. We are Midwesterners
who were transplanted in the nineties, when major corporations were
relocating from places like Greenwich, Connecticut to take advantage
of cheaper real estate and better tax rates, and so, as far as the
likes of our new neighbors at the time were concerned, were as good
Due to the
influx of corporate money and Northern blood, our suburban area
was the third fastest-growing county in the U.S. when my family
moved here in 1992 (I was a freshman). Half my classes were held
in trailers, a quick fix to accommodate new students, and I’m sure
that at the time the real Georgians would have said, "Atlanta
is not the South," but it sure was to me. I found my
new surroundings to be downright exotic: the creepy canopies of
kudzu; sounds of cicadas at night; girls (Laurie, Lindsey, Stacey,
Kellie, Carrie) who wore ribbons in their hair and guys who had
started playing football, not soccer, in the second grade. On my
first day of high school I noticed that a few of the kids in my
first period class had Bibles on their desks. "Is this Geometry?"
I asked one of them. "I think I might be in the wrong room."
The girl (Chrissie?) said I was in the right place and asked me
if I had been saved. When a teacher encouraged me a few weeks later
to participate in the Miss Freshman Pageant, I knew: This was the
This past February,
after fifteen years living up North, out West, then back up North
again, I moved back to Atlanta after a stint in a commune didn’t
work out (do they ever?) My parents still live here, my brother
and his wife had moved back a few years ago and had a spare bedroom,
I needed a soft place to land and so Atlanta it was. I left the
cranky Northeasterners with their cracked and bleeding knuckles
in the dry dead of winter and arrived in a new land of convertible-driving
blondes in blissful, balmy spring. With the dogwoods and magnolias
already in bloom, cardinals flittering complacently from branch
to branch, with no worries of flurries or hail, no need for snow
tires or shoveling, I knew: I had been saved! With each deep breath
of that sweet Southern air, each delectable sip of freshly brewed
sweet tea, the sun’s rays warm upon my skin, memories of my adolescence
in Georgia – of buttered grits and collard greens; of Trisha Yearwood
and Garth Brooks; of hot summer days spent sweating in long green
fields at band camp (that’s right, I said band camp) – came floating
to the surface of my mind and I became excited about the idea of
living in the south again, of experiencing it anew and relishing
what I had missed. I started garnishing my glasses with sprigs of
mint. I bought a big, floppy hat. I ran out and bought a copy of
with the Wind (I had never even seen the movie) which I
read on my brother’s porch while throwing the tennis ball for his
dog, Jackson. My brother said the dog had been named for a song
by Johnny Cash but no, in my mind he was now named for Stonewall.
It is probably
an obvious point, but it is difficult to see change, whether in
people, places, or cultures, as it happens. We don't notice the
grass growing or, as is probably a more apt metaphor in this case,
the wearing down of something by erosion. A lapse in time is required
for perspective and then one can see, literally, the changes that
have taken place. My move back to Atlanta, in particular a
certain recent night here, has allowed me to see what I already
suspected: that though I can move back to the same city I lived
in in 1996 (Atlanta, Georgia is still here), I will never again
be able to live in the same country. It is gone.
miles outside of Atlanta looms a massive granite rock called Stone
Mountain. It rises 1,683 feet above sea level, and there is nothing
else like it – not a mountain, barely a hill – for miles. No one
knows how such a massive rock became exposed but the best guess
is 285 million years of erosion. The north face of the rock is home
to the largest bas relief in the world: a Confederate Memorial carving
depicting Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, and Jefferson
Davis, conceived in 1916 and not officially completed until 1972,
often likened to Mount Rushmore for its size and splendor. In front
of the carving is a long stretch of grass, with a fountain at the
base and lined by pines, that leads up to Confederate Hall, which
houses a gift shop, a museum, and a movie theater, where a documentary
about the War of Northern Aggression / Civil War / War Between the
States / whatever you want to call it plays on a loop. In summertime
the side of the mountain acts as a projection screen. At night,
Georgians and tourists alike picnic on the lawn and watch the Stone
Mountain Laser Show Spectacular, a Southern institution (in my mind).
Stone Mountain Laser Show in certain circles and you’re likely to
elicit a knowing chuckle or an exaggerated eye roll. It is a spectacle
indeed! Take the theatrical merit of a Six Flags performance, the
spirit of a high school pep rally, the volume of a Rolling Stones
concert, the sentimentality of a pop country song, mix them together
with the visuals of an Atari game and you have the Stone Mountain
Laser Show. After the sun sets, the lasers project cute, cloyingly
wholesome, cartoon-like images on the side of the mountain to classic
southern songs, paying homage to all things Georgia. Because the
Southern Pride comes out in full force, it was always a high priority
on our list of places to take visitors. We would bring them with
the attitude: "You gotta get a load of this."
The laser show
changes every year, but the classic show I remember from my high
school days had a fairly predictable routine. First, it cycled through
professional sports teams, the Braves, Falcons, etc., and played
some fight songs from the universities. This was usually followed
by a tribute to bands and singers from Georgia (James Brown, Allman
Brothers, Indigo Girls) followed by The
Devil Went Down to Georgia: Johnny and Satan jumped around
in the flames for a few minutes while the chicken in the bread pan
was pickin’ out dough. Then there was a psychedelic interlude (maybe
a tribute to the 70’s, when lasers were awesome?), crazy designs
on the mountain and lasers pulsing wildly overhead. They always
on My Mind (Ray’s version) paired with images of rolling
fields, sunsets, and "moonlight through the pines." The
culmination of the show would be signaled by the soft snare drum
that begins Elvis Presley’s Dixie.
would then become very dark and quiet. One laser would slowly and
respectfully (if lasers can be respectful) trace the outline of
each Confederate general in the carving. It took a while. By the
time the images had been traced, Elvis would be singing "Glory,
glory, hallelujah," and the figures would come to life,
"step out" of the mountain, raise their swords and – charge!
At this point the crowd would cheer and our Midwestern visitors
would give us a look. We would look back, as if to say, "Yeah!
See? Told you." (This part always struck us as strange, because,
well, didn’t that war happen, like, a really long time ago? And
why do they still care? And wasn’t that war about slavery?
And shouldn’t people in the South be, well, ashamed to root for
the Confederates, to have any pride in that war, which "they"
fought over slavery?) To whoops and whistles, the horses
would be running and an outline of the Eastern United States would
appear and break apart into North and South. Then Elvis would take
it down a notch:"So hush, little baby, don’t you cry; You
know your daddy’s bound to die…" Sounds of guns and cannons.
The flute solo was always very somber, with abstract images of war
and dead soldiers.
At the next
crescendo ("Glory, glory, hallelujah!"), General
Lee would break his sword over his knee, and the two jagged pieces
of the sword would be shown falling dramatically to the ground.
This was the climax of the song. Then you would see the three generals
again on their horses, walking back the other way, slowly, past
more dead soldiers. The outline of the United States would reappear
– "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" – and the two, the
North and the South, would reunite. Then each general – "His
truth is marching on!" – would be given a moment to "climb"
back up in turn and take his place ceremoniously on the mountain
(at this point, fireworks, lots of them) as Elvis belted with increasing
intensity: "His truuuth is maaarching ONNNNN!"
When it was over, the spotlights would reveal the generals still
there in their place of defeat but eternal glory.
Did it glorify
war? Of course. Did it seem a little bit over the top? Sure. But
if you could watch that whole thing listening to Elvis singing that
song, sittin’ out there eatin’ fried chicken with your fellow ‘Mericans
under the stars on a warm summer night and – Was that…did I just
get a whiff of Atlanta burning? – and not be the least bit
moved for the Confederacy, their fight, their home, and their loss,
then you must have a heart like Stone Mountain. I mean, heck, even
Rhett Butler, selfish opportunist, war profiteer (and implacable
voice of reason) that he was, even he ran off and joined
the Cause, and at the eleventh hour! "I shall never forgive
myself for this idiocy. I am annoyed to find so much quixotism still
lingers in me. But our fair Southland needs every man. I’m off to
the wars." (And yes, I realize that I’m writing about him
as if he was a real person. My God, if only he were. That stupid
Scarlett! How could she not…but then again he…oh, Margaret Mitchell
how could you…)
We took visitors
to the Stone Mountain Laser Show because it seemed so Southern.
There, the Rebel spirit was still alive. You could feel it: the
pride, the historical sense, the importance of place. We didn’t
really get it, to be honest, and wondered what it all really
meant. At the time Georgia was still embroiled in the never ending
controversy over the state flag and whether it should display the
Southern Cross. (We thought: Really? Not over it yet?) We had heard
that even playing the song "Dixie" at the Laser Show was
controversial, because the monument had ties, way back when, to
the Ku Klux Klan, and was partially funded by it. We were always
wondering if there was something truly sinister (racism) lingering
beneath all that heritage and wholesome family fun. We initially
took people there as disinterested cultural spectators, but I have
to say that after four years, it became one of my favorite things
to do in the summer. The world is becoming so homogenized, and Americans
in general have such an appalling disinterest and absolute apathy
for history, theirs or anyone else’s, that I came to like it because
it stood for something unique to a particular time and place, and
to a particular people, and (setting aside the moral and political
facets of that war, "good" guys, bad buys, etc.) the fact
that these people found those stories worth preserving was enough
for me. (Not to mention we saw plenty of black families attending
the show as well. To be honest, this put our minds at ease.) And
besides, the Laser Show was never only about the Laser Show. It
was also about the two hours that led up to the Laser Show.
cousin was going to be visiting from Nebraska and I was supposed
to think of a few fun things to do with her while she was here.
I had just finished reading Gone With the Wind and my enthusiasm
for all things Southern had become a fever. That book helped me
to understand the South and "that" war in a way that four
years of living here never did. (After all, Atlanta’s not the South!)
My cousin’s visit was the perfect excuse to go back to Stone Mountain,
and I simply could not wait to immerse myself in some serious Confederate
When we pulled
into the parking lot, I got nervous. The entrance looked different,
cleaner, more Disneyland (whereas it used to be more RV park). There
was a playground, a sophisticated obstacle course thing that was
never there before, and kids were paying for tickets and waiting
in line to walk through it.
I huffed. "It used to be just some grass and blankets. Now
there will probably be a bunch of jumbotrons and an Apple store.
Nothing can ever remain simple! You probably can’t even bring food
in anymore and we’ll have to let a policeman rummage through our
But we walked
down the path through the pines and there it was: the lawn, people
sitting on blankets, no jumbotrons! And only one cop. It was just
as I remembered.
The lawn was
already crowded and it was only 7:00. What do you do to waste two
and a half hours before the sun goes down? Check your phone? Go
on Facebook? Read the paper? Let me tell you what you see on the
big lawn at Stone Mountain for two and a half hours before the sun
goes down. You see kids running. American kids…running! They
are throwing Frisbees with their dads, they are racing down the
hill, they are playing football or playing tag. They are rolling
down the hill. They are hula hooping. They are also: cartwheeling,
spinning, blowing bubbles, chasing bubbles, twirling, playing some
ninja game that I didn’t understand, and dancing (the hustle, the
Cuban shuffle, the chicken dance, the electric slide). You also
see people talking to each other, like, face to face, and
did I mention running? It’s completely bizarre! And awesome, way
more awesome than lasers. People are enjoying each other’s company,
maybe walking over to the one (one!) concession stand to get some
Dippin’ Dots. A woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was
involved with Camp Sunshine, because the blanket I’d taken from
my parents’ house had the Camp Sunshine logo on it. "No,"
I said. "What’s Camp Sunshine?" She said it was a camp
for kids with cancer and that her son had gone there. I asked if
he was okay and she said yes, thanks to some kind of breakthrough
treatment. Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better,
a choo-choo train came a chuggin’ down the track at the base of
the lawn. The conductor waved and the crowd waved back.
My country tis of thee…
Soon it was
dusk and the children were chasing lightning bugs and buying cheap
plastic toys that lit up: swords, fans, fake mohawks. I closed my
eyes and smelled – What was it? I didn’t know – but it’s sweet and
it’s Georgia and it intensifies at night, and suddenly I was sixteen
and back at band camp (that’s right, that’s what I said), sitting
under a big tree before lights out and scheming with my two best
girlfriends as to how we were going to sneak out at night and meet
the boys at a secret spot in the middle of the woods, something
we always talked about but never did. (We were good girls, you see.
We were on the dance team. We wore ribbons in our hair. And they
were bad, bad, bad, drum line bad.)
The laser show
started with some fireworks and the sports montage. The crowd cheered
for their teams, booed for their rivals. Then they played part of
Ray’s Georgia on My Mind and switched over midway to Willie’s
version. "Something new!" I thought, though I must
say I prefer Ray’s. (See? I told you I’m not a racist.) Then: a
big truck on a dirt road and some country singer singing: "We
like it loud / we like it honkin’ / We’re gonna say it proud / we
like our country and we like it loud." That one went over well.
Everyone knew the words.
Then I heard
a soft snare drum.
show only just started," I thought.
did not trace the outlines of the generals slowly and respectfully.
The generals just jumped off the wall like spry phantoms and started
I thought. "Not yet! This isn’t supposed to happen yet!"
I felt like standing up and making the sign for time out and marching
up to the guy who was running the thing and telling him that there
must have been some kind of mistake: This wasn’t supposed to happen
until the end of the laser show. Then before I knew it General
Lee had cracked his sword over his knee, the states had been shoved
back together, and Elvis’s voice faded out rather abruptly.
I wanted to
stand up, stamp my foot and scream: "That’s it? No way! It’s
been fifteen years, and I’m not movin’ a muscle till I get some
But there was
plenty of ballyhoo in store for me that night.
lame psychedelic interlude started, and after that came the tribute
to the music of Georgia. They did the full Devil
Came Down from Georgia routine: Satan and Johnny in the
flames and the chicken in the bread pan pickin’ out dough. At least
they got that right. After Johnny told Satan that he told
him once you son of a gun that he’s the best that’s ever been the
overhead lasers shooting up from the base of the mountain disappeared
and everything became dark and quiet. Then fireworks started shooting
up and exploding over our heads and I thought, "But they already
had the Civil War part."
Then an American
flag was projected onto the side of the mountain and Mariah Carey
started singing "Hero."
the hell is this?" I thought. "Mariah Carey’s not from
Georgia. She’s not even from the South. She’s from freaking Long
Island!" Then they abandoned the laser show pretense altogether
and started projecting real photographs onto the mountain, some
random ass pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, Rosa Parks,
and Amelia Earhart, followed by token images of "common folk":
a farmer, a storekeeper, a miner, a doctor, a black doctor. Then
came the fireman and the policeman and the logos for NYPD and NYFD.
There was a light flutter of applause. Then (can you guess where
this is going?): the Twin Towers, in all their majesty, followed
quickly by a helicopter and a fighter pilot.
as Mariah Carey was screeching at the top of her lungs "When
a hero comes along, with the strength to carry on…." a
video showed a huge ass American flag unfurling down the side of
the mountain, a flag so big it took up every square inch of lit
space on the mountain, and it unfurled with flag sound effects and
everything, falling right over (gasp!) the generals and their
horses. Then the fireworks started going absolutely bonkers. Pow!
Pah-pow-pow-pow! The flag faded and there were more images: a soldier
saluting…the Vietnam Veterans Memorial…a space shuttle…the Challenger
crew…a cemetery….Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…a man and a woman,
both in military uniforms and both in wheelchairs, kissing….another
cemetery…a man in uniform hugging a child…Arlington Cemetery…the
Mariah Carey finally shut up and everything got dark again and I
thought, "Thank God. Let’s get out of here. This sucks,"
but as I began to stand up, the words PLEASE RISE were projected
onto the mountain in silence. I froze.
The crowd was
standing now, and the Star Spangled Banner came in over the loud
speakers, the slowest, most drawn out, obnoxiously operatic Star
Spangled Banner you ever heard, and there were more fireworks, tons
of fireworks, shock and awe levels of fireworks, like Baghdad on
the night of the invasion, and then there was a photograph of a
massive American flag spread out across a baseball field…a massive
American flag on the top of an aircraft carrier….the Iwo Jima Memorial…a
bald eagle…a rocket…more fireworks…another bald eagle…the planet
Earth….a satellite…the JFK Eternal Flame.
I look around:
hats off, hands over hearts. It keeps going…
country of Japan (Wait, what? As in, "Remember how we annihilated
them"?)…Mount Rushmore….the Golden Gate Bridge…a river…the
Lincoln Memorial…the Jefferson Memorial…the Statue of Liberty…the
Arch…another flag…the Liberty Bell…another flag….a soldier saluting
it…the White House (with a flag in front)…two flags!...another bald
eagle…Uncle Sam pointing: I WANT YOU…a waterfall…a sailboat… windmills…cacti.
At this point I’m thinking of that song from Team America:
"Bed Bath and Beyond! Sushi! Books!"
The opera singer
howls at the top of her lungs. Another flag. Another bald eagle.
Still the fireworks. And it goes on like this forever, and right
when I’m about two seconds away from grabbing one of the little
kid’s plastic light-up swords and stabbing myself in the eyes and
poking out my own eardrums to "Make it stop!" it stops
and the lights come on.
I sat there
disgusted, saddened, and angry, not to mention stupefied by what
struck me as about nine thousand layers of irony, but when I looked
around at everyone else, they seemed to be in a pretty good mood,
almost…satiated, like they enjoyed being subjected to that
slobbering, ostentatious, incoherent hodgepodge of orgiastic nationalism
and just when I think it can’t get any more insane, the song American
Pie by Don McClean (um, also from New York), which
if I’m not mistaken is a wistful commentary on the decline of American
culture in a time that is, politically and geopolitically, violent,
turbulent and uncertain, starts playing over the loudspeakers as
people pack up their things.
made me shiver
With every paper I delivered
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
along like it’s a Bon Jovi song as we walk out to the car.
Now the half-time
air was sweet perfume
While Sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance
‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The Day the Music Died
I’m sure that
if I were a real historian I could offer a lot of insightful observations
on this experience, but I’m not. I can only try my best to find
words to express all the ways this horrid night appalled me. I know
that it had something to do, foremost, with the way national myth
can displace (and uproot) local stories. Local stories do not always
fit the approved narrative, you see (about "good guys,"
bad guys, etc.). That huge American flag unfurling over the Confederate
generals represented to me, visually, a machine that cannot, does
not and will not allow any questions about the past to take precedence
over the propaganda of the present. Because you see, if you are
allowed to see the past, especially from the vantage point of a
local story, you might stop thinking about the present in the way
they want you to.
me to remember how far from our minds war was in 1996, and what
a permanent part of our culture war and the warlike mentality has
become. Of course back then I was far more interested in winning
the affections of a certain snare drum player than paying attention
to politics; I know that Clinton, too, was involved in a lot of
military shenanigans and adventures overseas, but none of that really
permeated our culture the way it has since 9/11. And a lot of people
will say that none of this could be helped, that this state of affairs
was simply foisted upon us, that we can’t go back to the way things
were then because we must go forward with the bombing and the shooting
and the burning and the maiming because we have to out of self-defense
and to those people I ask how many deaths of innocent civilians
in foreign countries should we be willing to tolerate in the name
of "self-defense," in the name of this "war"
on "terror"? I mean seriously, give me a concrete number.
How many are acceptable? 30,000? 80,000? 200,000? What is the threshold
at which killing again becomes a matter of conscience? At what point
do we say, "Enough"?
And then there
was the appearance of two legendary Southerners, Martin Luther King
Jr. and Rosa Parks, in this kaleidoscopic fantasia of national dreaming.
Could we talk for one second about how these two people were followers
of Christ and, thus, staunchly committed to the Gospel message
of nonviolence? Not only did they not believe in the use of preemptive
force, but they didn’t believe that force or violence should be
used even as a retaliatory measure under any circumstance. They
had nothing whatsoever to do with fighter pilots and certainly would
not have wanted to be associated with the myriad wars that have
been waged under the auspices of "responding to" the 9/11
attacks for the past ten years, which are now correlated directly
with National Greatness. Even though they were black people from
the South, if you had given them the chance to have their photographs
displayed next to the flag and the Lincoln Memorial or the Cross,
which one do you think they would have chosen?
And then let’s
talk briefly for a second about JFK,
who slowly turned away from his Cold War beliefs and took up a secret
correspondence with Public Enemy #1, Evil Doer Nikita Krushchev
at the height of the Cold War. Actually, even though we all know
that America is the best and Americans are the good guys, it might
be worth it to point out that Kruschchev wrote the first letter
to Kennedy, reaching out to him at great risk and expressing his
wish to find some common ground with him and to avoid a war that
could very well and very quickly escalate into nothing less than
total nuclear annihilation for everyone on the planet. (But he’s
still an Evil Doer because he’s not American.) But Kennedy did
put his own life at risk too, by flouting the advice of his Joint
Chiefs of Staff, responding to Kruschchev and secretly building
a personal relationship with him. He, too, wished to establish peace
and avoid war at all costs, even if that meant that, in the eyes
of those who were frothing at the mouth with Cold War madness, he
was committing treason. And he did pay the ultimate price, indeed,
when the CIA (our own government) KILLED HIM. Bald eagle! Helicopter!
Mount Rushmore! Waterfalls!
On the car
ride home I was a rantin’ and a ravin’ about what had happened to
my beloved Stone Mountain Park laser show, and I was accused of
perhaps taking it all a bit too seriously. It was just lasers and
some music after all. It was suggested that perhaps the show wasn’t
really supposed to mean all that I thought it meant, that
perhaps I was reading into things a bit too much.
Was I taking
it all too seriously? Am I taking it all too seriously?
wrote in Peace
in the Post-Christian Era: "We strive to soothe our
madness by intoning more and more vacuous clichés. And at
such times, far from being as innocuous as they are absurd, empty
slogans take on dreadful power."
I felt the
dreadful power of vacuous clichés and empty slogans that
night. I felt it fall over me like a cold shadow, the shadow of
a fat, ominous, mysterious, untouchable blimp that eclipsed the
sun and hovered overhead. It was so dark and foreboding,
precisely because it was so vacuous, so empty, so vague, and thus
How do you
fight a shadow? You can’t touch it. You can’t move it. You can’t
stop it. It’s just there: the blimp of National Greatness and the
dark shadow of lies under which we live, and it’s been everywhere
since 9-11, falling across every state, every county, every city,
every church, every house, every mind and heart, and frankly I’m
sick to death of being under it, of hearing about it, of being expected
to stand and bow and salute and pay my respects to it, and it’s
so big, the empire, the lie, so powerful in its inconsistent nothingness,
that it’s obscured everything else, and now it’s taken away this
too, my Stone Mountain Laser Show. I even have to hear about it
here. Can we never get away from it? Will it never end?
it won’t, as long as there are "safe havens" in the world
where evil doers might carry out evil plans.
And I suppose
my disgust, indignation and offense had something to do, finally,
with this idea of unity at all costs, an idea which really has its
roots in America in the War of Northern Aggression (there, I chose
one), and Justin Raimondo made this point astutely in a recent column
about Obama’s latest address to the nation, in case you missed it:
predecessor, Obama has often praised this mystic post-9/11"unity,"
including twice in this speech, and therein lies the mark of the
tyrant, who always welcomes the unthinking submission to authority
So no, I don’t
think I am overreacting after watching the power of those vacuous
images and slogans, and that final, sinister command, the call for
unity and support, and witnessing all of the people around me stand
up and take off their hats and put their hands over their hearts
to honor…something, though we know not what exactly; we only know
that it interrupts thought, blunts feeling, deadens conscience,
that it preaches hate, turns man against man, justifies violence
and destroys. And that something, whatever it is, has a cold grip
on the American psyche. No, I don’t think I was overreacting as
the fireworks exploded overhead and obscured the stars, the moon
and all light with their smoke.
Oh, and as
I watched him on that stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan’s spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To moonlight the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
Day the Music Died
Why dwell on
things in the past that separated us when we can dwell on things
in the present that unite us? Things like fear and arrogance and
if I don’t want to be united with that? What if I don’t want to
be united with them?
These are questions
that have been asked before.
came to me suddenly when the words PLEASE RISE appeared on the mountain.
It was a small answer, and an even smaller action, but it was something.
No, thanks, Washington. I won’t. I’ve had enough.
While the South
rose around me, I was content to stay right there on my blanket,
close my eyes and take a deep breath, enjoying the scent of crepe
myrtle or dogwood or cape jessamine, whatever it is that sweetens
the air in Georgia at night.
Not that I
wouldn’t rise. I would rise for Dippin’ Dots and hula-hoops,
for choo choo trains and families playing catch. I would rise to
do the Electric Slide or to honor the founder of Camp Sunshine or
the person who figured out how to cure that little kid’s cancer.
But no, not for this, not for your Cause, your wars and your cemeteries,
with your end game that is always described with words like “peace”
and “freedom,” but the means to which is always a form of death:
physical, moral, and spiritual.
And I’m sure
there are people out there who would say, "You wouldn’t be
free to enjoy those Dippin’ Dots if it weren’t for the American
military! You’d be singin’ your country songs in German if it weren’t
for the American military!" And to those people, too, I say:
I can never
be a Southerner, but I can still be a Rebel.
I think we’re
going to need a lot more. There’s a war brewing, and it’s not with
the terrorists. It’s with the shadow. And you don’t have to pick
up a weapon to fight it. It wouldn’t do any good anyhow. You can’t
fight a shadow with a weapon. Plus, their weapons are bigger. Their
weapons are badder. They spend $664 billion a year creating, maintaining
and deploying their weapons. Their weapons are their alpha and their
omega: the source of their power and their entire reason for existing.
So if you have any notions of grabbing your musket, gathering your
militia, and running out onto an open field, I feel it incumbent
upon me to disabuse you of that notion right quick. They will probably
spot you with one of their satellites, send over a drone and obliterate
you with a laser (while Toby Keith’s Courtesy
of the Red White and Blue blasts in the background: "We’ll
light you up like the Fourth of July!")
You can only
fight a shadow with light. So take a cue from Rosa Parks and simply
refuse to stand up when they tell you to. That’s where it has to
start, and that’s the only way to bring all of this to an end. Do
that and you’ll be doing your part. True, fight in this way,
serve in this way, and they will probably never bury you
in a special cemetery or carve your likeness into the side of a
mountain. I have a feeling there’s not going to be a lot of glory
in it, being a Rebel this time around. On the other hand, you will
be the victor every single time. You will never know defeat.
Finnigan [send her mail]
graduated from the University of Montana with an M.F.A. in Creative
Writing in 2008, and is still proud of the coup she staged while
she was there. As leader of the Missoula for Ron Paul Meet-Up, she
helped the group infiltrate the Missoula County Republican Central
Committee and win the county for Ron Paul on Super Tuesday (to the
chagrin of neoconservatives throughout the state). She is working
on a book.
© 2011 Ellen Finnigan