The Open Space of Democracy

Terry Tempest Williams

Peacable Kingdom    "I believe in perilous liberty over quiet servitude."

Mount Rushmore National Monument, western South Dakota.

"Give me people to match my mountains."

Her seven significant suggestions.



"I believe in perilous liberty over quiet servitude." May we commit ourselves to "perilous liberty." [1]
trees Background essay:
  Sweet Land of Liberty  
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"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?"

page 86.

One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven

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Interpreting the meaning of William's address

J. Siry, 2015

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 the union if not always exercise self control over its diverse and variedly opinionated members.

This author, Terry T. Williams, in a series of essays based –on her unwelcome 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 (now in it's 15th year) 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 private property. Those who professed an allegiance to wildlife and resisting pollution were targeted along with "enemy combatants" as threats to the security, safety, and exploiting 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.

Although we dwell within a social atmosphere of mounting alarm, creeping surveillance, and growing distrust, Williams addressed the graduating class of 2003, from 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, families, or services, and spoke to a necessary recovery of the 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.

As a matter of historical record the open space movement was an actual response to preserving lands from

excessive and unintelligent suburban sprawl in the 1950s.

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

The Open Space of Democracy


"What threatens us today is fear . . . . Our danger is the forces in the world today which are trying to use man's fear to rob him of his individuality . . . . This is what we must resist, if we are to change the word for man's peace and security."

William Faulkner, Commencement, May 28, 1951



"Hope that perches in the soul."

Emily Dickinson.

p. 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."


Peacable Kingdom

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



"Meeting" is an art piece by "The artist Mary Frank has created an image of democracy."


“Day and night I could work and I still wouldn’t do it all.”

~Mary Frank, painter, photographer, sculptor.

William's explains:


In the aftermath or wake of September 11, 2001, national values are under threat & being redefined such as:

democracy | education | liberty | thought | land | high Arctic | beauty | empathy | bravery | service


"Force has trumped debate and diplomacy."



"We wonder who to trust and what to believe."

p. 2.


"I have always believed democracy is . . . a never ending project where the windows and doors remain open, a reminder to never close ourselves off to the sensory impulses of eyes and ears alert toward justice."

p. 3.

"I realized that in American Letters we celebrate both language and landscape."

"that these words, stories, an poems can create an ethical stance toward life:"

"the natural world infused with divinity."

"I came to understand through an education in the humanities that knowledge is another form of democracy, the freedom of expression that leads to empathy."

"It begins with our questions . . ."

p. 5.

"Democracy is built upon the right to be insecure. We are vulnerable. We are vulnerable together. Democracy is a beautiful experiment.

Thoreau, "Cast your whole vote, . . . your whole influence."

p. 11.

Thoreau argued for "sight that is responsible for what it sees."


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

"Discussion is waged in absolutes not ambiguities."

"What role does this leave us as individuals within a republic?"

p. 6.

Abraham Lincoln,    "Our reliance is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere."

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

"How do we engage in responsive citizenship in times of terror?"

p. 7.

"What does the open space of democracy look like?"

"room for dissent"

"the health of the environment is seen as the wealth of our communities."

" . . . our character has been shaped by the diversity of America's landscapes."

"humanities . . .the very art of what it means to be human."

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

p. 8.

Our western European, democratic republics are

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

Albert Camus

pp. 22-23.

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Commencement is an old French word from the 1300s "comencier" meaning to start or begin and taken into English meaning to advance, engage, start, begin, implying in some contexts to 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."

p. 23.


Ground Truthing

AlaskaShould the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve be open to mining and oil drilling?

            "The Arctic is balancing on an immense mirror."

p. 28.

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

p. 28.

           Alaska pipeline

Mountains of the Brooks Range in the North American tundra where the trans-Alaska oil pipeline traverses the high arctic plains.

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

Cohabitants of this boreal climate and arctic landscape are the Gwich'in a branch of the inupiat people

Trimble Gilbert, tribal elder:

"He stands up and looks toward the taiga:

p. 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'."

pp. 30-31.


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

p. 31.

"On hands and knees I smell musk."

p. 34.

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

p. 35.

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

p. 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 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."

p. 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."

pp. 61-62.


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Go here to read 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?"

p. 66.

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

p. 67.

Castle Valley

p. 68.


           The character of  Castle Valley, Utah"lie among the world's most famous desert settings, well preserved at Arches and Canyonlands national parks as well as Monument Valley (spanning the border with Arizona)."

"is not an affluent community." Moab, Utah

p. 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."

p. 74.

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

p. 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."

pp. 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."

p. 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."

p. 85.

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

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

p. 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."

pp. 86-87.


"fall prey to bitterness and cynicism"

p. 87.

          "embrace democracy as a way of life"

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

p. 87.

"reminding us all about what is primal and fleeting"

p. 90.

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

p. 88.

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

pp. 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."

p. 88.


"Fire that wakes us up."

p. 89.

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


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

p. 85.


Question. Stand. Speak. Act.





p. 10, & refrain p. 85.



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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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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, livelihoods and the landscapes on which they reside, rely and may renew.


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.


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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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



page 11. remarks from the author's Commencement speech University of Utah, May 2, 2003.


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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What to do?

Author, lecturer, environmental health and wilderness protection advocate Terry Tempest Williams, a Mormon woman from Utah, has made several claims in positively associating literature with freedom of thought and ecology with a liberty to protect our human values even in times of peril, intolerance, and strife.

You will want to comprehend, and be able to write about what she means by "an open space" in which democracy may thrive, if we nurture one another's ideas and restore the planet's remaining wild areas.

Be able to explain her arguments about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the controversy over Castle Rock, Utah.

What does she describe as important features and crucial values at stake in these wilder places? Who does she quote and what do the quotations mean? For example, as Karen Winkler wrote it is appropriate for scholars to be "looking at how texts represent the physical world; for others, at how literature raises moral questions about human interactions with nature." Does Williams raise moral concerns and if so where in her writing and about what five or six issues?


But Lawrence Buell, Harvard University professor of English has clarified for us that "new critics in the 1950s," had "thought that texts could be analyzed on their own terms, without reference to the context in which they were produced." Dr. Buell says that "recent theorists . . . have argued that language never accurately reflects reality." Do you agree with him and do you see evidence from Williams writing that "there's been a gap between texts and facts"?

Be prepared to write at least 300 words this week about William's meaning with examples to convince the class you comprehend what she insists is the linkage between the physical conditions of existence and the American cultural insistence on liberty, especially freedom of thought, expression, and peaceful assembly to promote action.

Post your preliminary writing to the Wiki, before class, and discuss what you wrote in class.

democracy | education | liberty | thought | land | high Arctic | beauty | empathy | bravery | service
Subjects on this page:




Castle Valley, Utah





Frank, Mary artist








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.


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