The Open Space of Democracy

Peacable Kingdom Terry Tempest Williams

Mount Rushmore National Monument, western South Dakota.

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COMMENCEMENT| GROUND TRUTHING | Engagement

 
trees Background essay:
  Sweet Land of Liberty  

 

"It is time to ask, when will our national culture of self-interest stop cutting the bonds of community to shore up individual gain and instead begin to nourish communal life through acts of giving, not taking?"

86

 

Autumn

In determining the origins of the United States, scholars have called this union "Nature's Nation," A nation "invented by reason," or "democracy in America" as a socially embedded desire to self-govern if not always exercise self control.

This author, Terry T. Williams, in a series of essays based–on her unwelcomed remarks at a graduation ceremony given at an invitation to speak in her native state of Utah–is just one of the many stories associated with the brutal events of September 11, 2001. On that day when the nation awakened to terror, terrifying images and a confused response to attacks on our: airlines, principle cities's financial hub, and center of military power in Washington, emotions engulfed reason. Despite the confusion the nation's vulnerability was self-evident in a country that runs on electronic media and automatic pilot. A wave of repression, torture, and military adventurism unsurpassed since the Civil War (1861-1865) swept the nation.

Williams recoiled, as did many writers, from the justifications for a war on terror that silenced differences in a sea of quiet conspiracies to spy on, search, and question citizens about their loyalty, ethnic identity and religious practices. For a Mormon woman, the signals were all too clear that we as a people were on the verge of reverting to prejudice, bigotry, and uncontrolled fear in pursuit of an internationally widespread and timeless "war on terror." Recall that Mormons throughout their history had been driven out of their farms in places east of the Mississippi River for their faith and social contract that seemed so variant from the national Protestant norm in the decades before they discovered refuge and settled on the Great Salt Lake.

This author also feared that under the label of "eco-terrorism" that those acts of civil disobedience to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of our natural heritage would be swept up in the frenzy of arrests. People who had tried to stop logging of old growth forests were incarcerated as terrorists because of their destruction of property. Those who professed an allegiance to wildlife and resisting pollution were targeted along with "enemy combatants" as threats to the security, safety, and exploitive hunger of the nation to allegedly protect our values against an "International Islamic jihad."

Wild lands once protected for their scenic, biological, and functional integrity were now thrown open to mineral exploration in the name of "freeing ourselves from dependence on foreign oil." We nonetheless consumed imported oil at record levels throughout the war on terror (2001-2009) which Congress endorsed to the point of even creating a new national bureaucracy ominously call "Homeland Security." To many loyal and environmentally aware people the tone, the actions, and the consequences of excessive rhetoric were combustible fuel to an ongoing use of excessive force. That excessive use of military forces led to authorized invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan which have now been counted as the longest, if not most inconclusive, wars ever fought by the US.

In such an atmosphere of mounting alarm, creeping surveillance, and growing distrust, Williams addressed the graduating class of the University of Utah calling for sobriety in the use of our language, restraint in the use of our mortal powers to destroy entire neighborhoods, and a recovery of our national tradition of tolerance.

Only she was met with anger, disbelief, and accusations. Many people think that Williams made traitorous remarks and expressed anti-American sympathies in her speech. In contesting her loyalty and devotion to duty Williams was forced to continue the conversation in writing articles to further explain her motives and message.

"The Open Space of Democracy" is the collected justification for her reminding us about the importance of minority rights, the enduring necessity for tolerance in times of critical actions, and the sanctuary equally afforded all people by the natural heritage of the nation's accessible preserves of land, air, and water.

The open space movement was an actual response to suburban sprawl in the 1950s.

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COMMENCEMENT| GROUND TRUTHING | Engagement

A Vermont Town Common: the embodiment of the centrality of an open, public place to meet in colonial America.

The Open Space of Democracy

 

COMMENCEMENT| GROUND TRUTHING | Engagement

 

 

 

Commencement

"Hope that perches in the soul."

Emily Dickinson.

5

What I heard were mature voices, steady minds, speaking from a generation that had witnessed the beginning of two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, while students at the university. They were not interested in ideas or language that polarized people: Christianity vs. Islam, . . . wilderness vs. development."

4

Peacable Kingdom

Peaceable Kingdom, by Edward Hicks. American, 1833-34, Oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum of Art, NYC.

 

"In American Letters we celebrate both language and landscape."

 

"these words … can create an ethical stance toward life"

5

When "what it means to be a patriot is being narrowly construed."

Abraham LIncoln,    "the spirit which prized liberty"

 

"trample on the rights of others and you have lost the genius of your own independence."

6

Our western European, democratic republics are

"A formidable gamble that words are more powerful than munitions."

Albert Camus

22-23

Commencement from to "commence begin, discuss, commend, praise and entrust"

 

"To commit to the open space of democracy is to begin to make room for conversations that can move us toward a personal diplomacy."

23

 

 

COMMENCEMENT| GROUND TRUTHING | Engagement

 

Ground Truthing

 

            "The Arctic is balancing on an immense mirror."

28

            "Beauty is presence and it resides in the Brooks Range."

28

           Alaska pipeline

Mountains of the Brooks Range in the North American Arctic tundra.

 

"We are left standing in deep, vast stillness, even with rushing water at our feet."

 

Cohabitants of the landscape are the Gwich'in a branch of the inupiat people

Trimble Gilbert, tribal elder:

"He stands up and looks toward the taiga:

30

'You know this is the first year the caribou have gone the other direction.'

He turns around and points toward their traditional migratory path.

"Do you know why?' I ask.

He shakes his head. 'But we are watching and wondering'."

30-31

pipeline

 

"Drinking from the river. . . .The childhood pleasure of drinking directly from the source."

31.

 

"On hands and knees I smell musk."

34

 

"The land speaks to us in gestures. What we share as human beings is so much more than what separates us."

35

". . . their relentless drive to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge"

39

"These disputed lands are part of the Coastal Plain, where the great caribou migrations occur –the long sweep of land that stretches from the foothills of the Brooks Range to the Beaufort Sea."

pp. 39-40

"being censored by the United States government."

 

"The threat of beauty."

"In the open space of democracy, beauty is not optional, but essential to our survival as a species."

pp. 40-41.

"Scale cannot be registered here in human terms. It is geologic, tectonic, and planetary."

 

". . . yet a strange softness abides, in the razor-cut terror of this rugged terrain."

 

"Braided rivers, braided energies. Wild waters entwine. . . .The roots of silver-leafed willows, exposed in the cut bank, tremble like the nervous system of the arctic."

p. 44.

 

"The power of nature is the power of a life in association. Nothing stands alone."

 

"Where our species' magnanimous nature can be practiced."

p. 59.

 

"The quality of Being...is the lesson of Nature." Walt Whitman, quoted.

 

"Raw wild beauty is a deeply held American value. It is its own declaration of independence. Equality is experienced through humility. Liberty is expressed through the simple act of wandering."

 

Of the momentary Arctic Summer:

"In a manic rush life exerts itself fully."

60.

 

"3:00 AM Divine light. I am called out of the tent by the sun. . . .

 

They rise to a rainbow and another. A double rainbow is arching over the plains in Arctic light, and we watch, as human beings have always watched, the great herds in motion."

61-62.

 

COMMENCEMENT| GROUND TRUTHING | Engagement

 

Start | body in three parts | argument | meaning | conclusion | index

Engagement

The finer details of the chapter

The four necessities of engagement.            

 The inspiration of two wilderness advocates and biologists.

 

          "Mardy and Olaus Murie's living room."

          "Never have I felt such dismay over the leadership and public policies of our nation....

          "we appear to be anything but united states?"

66

Mardy Murie "I believe she would send me home."

67

Castle Valley

68

     

 

           character of  Castle Valley "is not an affluent community." Moab, Utah

69

          "partners have protected over three thousand acres and raised over four million dollars."

 

          "the creation of an atmosphere of engagement with other committed individuals."

74

          "All part of a concerted conservation effort to create a long-term vision for the watershed now"

74

          

"The heart is house of empathy whose door opens when we receive the pain of others. This is where bravery lives. . ."

 

Ours is a society

Other social critics.

 

"I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood , and become undisguised and naked,

I am mad for it to be in contact with me."

 

Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass."

 

84-85

"Democracy depends on engagement, a firsthand accounting of what one sees, what one feels, and what one thinks, followed by the artful practice of expressing the truth of our times through our own talents, gifts, and vocations."

85

Question. Stand. Speak. Act.

pp. 10,12, 85

 

"We have a history of bravery in this nation, and we must call it forward now."

85

"We have made the mistake of confusing democracy with capitalism."

 

          "A political machinery we all understand to be corrupt."

86

"It is time to resist the simplistic, utilitarian view that what is good for business is good for humanity in al its complex web of relationships."

86-87

          DON'T "fall prey to bitterness and cynicism"

87

          "embrace democracy as a way of life"

 

                    "the necessity for each of us to participate in the formation of an ethical life...."

87

"Fire that wakes us up."

89

"The breathing space it now holds [for] Castle Valley."

 

"reminding us all about what is primal and fleeting"

90

"To care is neither conservative nor radical it is a form of consciousness."

88

          "The restoration of liberty and justice for all species, not just our own?"

88-89

"I need to look in the mirror…"

 

"We are in need of a reflective activism born out of humility not arrogance."

         "opens the door to becoming a compassionate participant in the world."

88

 

"Our future is guaranteed only by the degree of our personal involvement and commitment to an inclusive justice."

p. 85.

 

COMMENCEMENT | Engagement | GROUND TRUTHING

Start | body in three parts | argument | meaning | conclusion | index

Question. Stand. Speak. Act.

p. 10, & refrain p. 85.

 

W

e have a history of bravery in this nation and we must call it forward now. Our future is guaranteed only by the degree of our personal involvement and commitment to an inclusive justice.

. . . .

It is time to ask, when will our national culture of self-interest stop cutting the bonds of community to shore up individual gain and instead begin to nourish communal life through acts of giving, not taking? It is time to acknowledge the violence rendered to our souls each time a mountaintop is removed to expose a coal vein in Appalachia or when a wetland is drained, dredged, and filled for a strip mall. And the time has come to demand an end to the wholesale dismissal of the sacredness of life in all its variety and forms, as we witness the repeated breaking of laws, and the relaxing of laws, in the sole name of growth and greed.

p. 86.

. . . .

 

We are in need of a reflective activism born out of humility, not arrogance. Reflection, with deep time spent in the consideration of others, opens the door to becoming a compassionate participant in the world.

 

“To care is neither conservative nor radical,” writes John Ralston Saul. “It is a form of consciousness.” To be in the service of something beyond ourselves—to be in the presence of something other than ourselves, together—this is where we can begin to craft a meaningful life where personal isolation and despair disappear through the shared engagement of a vibrant citizenry.

pp. 88-89.

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Conclusion

 

COMMENCEMENT | Engagement | GROUND TRUTHING

 

 

COMMENCEMENT

To begin a revival of national values for which we are genuinely admired around the world, we must redefine "inclusive justice" to promote and restore people's lives.

 

 

GROUND TRUTHING

to begin again we may want to recall that this land is the world's natural and cultural heritage and it is not ours to squander, defile, or sell to others for whatever the price, or intent.

 

 

Engagement

We all have a duty to listen, actually listen to others and the participants in the world to interpret the inarticulate, instruct the inconsiderate, and guide the argument to at least protect and renew the natural conditions that restrain, but nourish us all.

 

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Meaning:

We must rise above to overcome

A. The human impulse to destroy is overpowering.

B. The instinct for self preservation can harm so many others.

C. The rationality that fragments responsibility and breaks-up knowledge into decipherable but disconnected pieces is only partially true.

asserting "our personal involvement & commitment to an inclusive justice." (85)

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Terry Tempest Williams

An Unspoken Hunger

Notes:

Peaceable Kingdom (1834), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The painting in the National Gallery, is work of Edward Hicks (1780-1849) one of his series of Peaceable Kingdom paintings. As a Quaker (American Society of Friends) and probationers of quietism his beliefs infuse the painting based on Biblical and traditional motifs of the late Colonial and early national periods in US history.

Here William Penn is depicted on the shores of the Delaware River with the Leni Lenape native peoples (First Nations) with whom he negotiated and contracted a treaty in order to settle the lands surrounding Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to which the native claim had extended farming, hunting and fishing rights.

One of the commentators on Hick's artistry suggests "The divided tree remains a major element in his paintings. As with the animal symbolism, other figures could represent concepts like 'justice' or 'purity.' Originally a sign painter, Hicks continued to make 'signs,' except that now we have to call them symbols."

Mr. John Braostoski, Shrewsbury Meeting House

The American Friends practice pacifism because they believe in an inner light that infuses all creatures with the divinity, rationality, and empathy of life's maker. Created as a refuge for Friends who were segregated from power and influence in Anglican England, Penn's woods or Pennsylvania developed into a sanctuary for many faiths seeking refuge from oppression and tyranny of belief. Soon the center of abolition of American Negro slavery, the colony and later commonwealth became a haven for dissidents, free thinkers, publishers, and inventors. It is no accident that the independence of the nation, its Articles of Confederation, and first Constitution were all drafted in this city Penn founded based on toleration and equity.

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Index    
  On this page:

 

beginning

censorship

citizenship

empathy

equity

freedom

justice

listening

obligation

scale

survival

Cow

Peaceable Kingdom is one of sixty paintings done by Hicks on the same theme as a Quaker committed to peace and prophecy (The Book of Isaiah).

The title is also a contemporary documentary film about saving farm animals.

ivy

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