State of the Nation

It has been a long week.  With an incumbent who refuses to tell the truth, we’ve faced three days of knuckle-biting so far and each day stirs up the butterflies of election day.  How we could’ve become a nation that is so easily duped into following a man who’s told a record number of bald-faced lies in the West Wing (and anywhere he appears, in fact) is an inscrutable mystery.  I guess many people don’t read.  Or think critically.  This should’ve been barely a contest at all.  The Associated Press national map is seared into my eyeballs like a computer monitor left on the same page too long without a screen saver.  Going back every few minutes to check for a touch more blue.  A sign of hope.  Meanwhile, 45 is doing his best to prevent votes already cast from being counted.

We’re a nation under extreme stress.  Whoever wins will need to bring deeply divided people back together, but here’s the rub.  We know from four years of terrible first-hand experience that Trump can’t do it.  Won’t even try.  He’s already compared himself to the greatest leaders we’ve ever had.  He has no reason, and no capacity to change.  Joe Biden is about as mild a Democrat as they come.  In saner times he’d likely have been considered a closet Republican.  Still, 45’s supporters rail as if he’s some socialist seeking to overturn the American system.  Excuse me, but look at the past four years—what precisely do you think was overturned during them?  The coronavirus rages, hitting record numbers.  The response from the White House?  Absolutely nothing.

Even with this there’s uncertainty in the air.  I wonder what America’s collective blood pressure is right now?  I know my systolic doesn’t feel too good.  Any legitimate leader would never fear an honest election.  One who tries to tamper with the results has already shown his true character.  And priorities.  And so we wait.  Yesterday the lines from V kept going through my head—“Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”  I finished the poem somewhat differently but the word “treason” remained.  I could use a little fantasy just about now.  As I write this the counters are all asleep.  Biden leads in the popular vote by almost four million, a greater lead than Hillary had just four years ago.  And it is now November 6, but just barely.  At least it’s Friday.  We need to appreciate the small things as they come.

V November

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,” begins the parable V for Vendetta before opening on a government not unlike our own.  Fascist, built on hatred, an angry white man speaks for the few who worship nothing but power and call it God.  Tomorrow is election day, and V can also stand for Vote.  Two years ago our nation awoke in shock.  Since that day we’ve seen hate crimes transform from illegal to commendable as Neo-Nazis are described as very fine people and those who actually do the labor for the nation have been disenfranchised so the uber-wealthy can have tax cuts.  Violence isn’t the answer, but voting can be.  As soon as the GOP sensed it might lose, it began voter suppression measures.  They have never watched V.

The hope for any democracy rests in the volition to vote.  We have to be willing to inconvenience ourselves to get to the polling station tomorrow for an outcome that will decide the fate of this nation.  We’ve had “fake news” spewn out at every fact that is distasteful.  Open, bald-faced lies backed up by sycophantic adoration of a non-charismatic hater—well, have you watched V for Vendetta?  Graphic novels, it turns out, can indeed be prophetic.  And since there are other nations out there that look to emulate the land of Amerigo Vespucci’s legacy.  We have forgotten what it was like to be a colony.  Instead we prefer following blind leaders—those who can’t understand that hateful words lead to hateful deeds.  Those who can’t understand that a terrorist can be an elected official.

I’m describing V for Vendetta, of course.  The coincidence of the Roman numeral five and the word “Vote,” however, hasn’t been lost on me.  I’ve talked to those displeased with the results of election day two years ago who hadn’t gone to vote.  What we see as V designs his intricate plan is that the will of the people still matters.  But for your will to be known, you must use your voice; you must vote.  Or be victims of our own system.  We’ve had two years to see what damage can be done—a constitution treated as a napkin and due process subverted in order to ensure ill-gotten gain.  Vivid colors have been used to stain this canvas.  We don’t often receive a chance to correct imbalances but there’s a lot at stake this time.  If you doubt me, at least watch V for Vendetta and remember that parables are, by definition, true.

For the People

The complex of holidays that make up the transition from light to darkness represents a different mix, depending where you are. Life on the equator, for example, experiences no real variation in daylight hours and I would expect that equinoxes and solstices are relatively meaningless. Or at least less so than where darkness encroaches. For those of us in temperate zones the difference in day length can be quite dramatic and our holiday calendar guides us through it. Getting through the darkness. So this weekend, on Bonfire Night—also known as Guy Fawkes Night, or November 5—I watched V for Vendetta again. This isn’t actually an annual practice, but some years the need to remember the fifth of November is quite strong. This is one of those years. I can’t remember having ever been this anxious about a presidential election. Tomorrow we are voting on whether we want democracy to continue or if we want a dictator who can stir hate like no candidate I’ve ever seen. He even makes Ronald Reagan look tolerable.

I’ve posted on V for Vendetta before, so I need not go over the story. The theme, however, that governments are to serve the people is a message that bears repeating. Governments are to serve the people. We’ve come to a crises point in self-government. A vote for Trump instead of Hillary is saying “I give up, I want Big Brother to take over.” Perhaps the movie I should reference is 1984. Orwell may have got the year wrong, but the story right. Make people afraid, stir the pot of negativity and they will act in desperation. Reactionary governments quickly become dictatorships and that message, mean-spirited and full of ugliness, has been placed squarely in our faces.

The point of V for Vendetta, and the point on which the movie ends, is that V is each of us. We have the ability to make smart choices just as we have the ability to act out on irrational hatred. Who would’ve thought that election years would become days of such terror? I’ve always felt strongly about social justice, and I always vote with a conscience. I have never voted for a hate-monger or someone who believes the way to help the poor is to give the rich even more. There is a deep perversity here, a cultural psychosis. And the problem is we’re locked into four years of the result. For the sake of human decency and sanity, we all need to get out and vote. And I sincerely believe that pulling that lever is a choice for self destruction (Trump) or a future of new potential (Hillary). I just hope we’re smart enough to make the right choice.


Guy Fawkes

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,” so begins the poem that haunts my every autumn with V for Vendetta. As a colonial, I never really peered too deeply into the Gunpowder Plot. We were all told that Guy Fawkes was the bad guy and that he got his in the end. Recently I delved a bit deeper and learned that this was a religious conflict. Part of a conspiracy to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne of England, Fawkes was captured as he guarded the actual gunpowder of said plot, and the rest, as they say, evolved into V. The iconic Guy Fawkes mask, sometimes sported by members of Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements, has moved away from its Catholic roots and on into the realm of wider social justice. We know that blowing up our enemies is not a viable solution (we too remember, remember the eleventh of September), but the metaphorical destruction of oppressive systems may be the only way to vindicate the demands of social justice.

Dystopias have been heavily on my mind lately. Looking across the socio-political landscape I see many concerned people with no power to displace the impacted one-percenters. Politicians court money, and sociological studies show that young people don’t bother to vote and have no interest in entering politics because it is so widely known that it is a corrupt and inefficient system. While laws are easily enacted to protect extreme wealth, social security finds itself on the block as seniors are increasing in poverty almost as fast as they are increasing in numbers. In my own life I have experienced being cut off from retirement plans because I wasn’t “vested,” which I translate as “saving money for those at the top.” Still, we blithely press on, wondering if V really exists at all. We don’t need to seek out dystopias. They will discover us.

November is that graying period between the colorful burst of vindictive playfulness that is Halloween to the long night of the solstice. During this time we will vote in vain and await a better future that never seems to come. We, like V, have been an experiment of the state over the freedoms of the individual. The market, we’re told, has recovered. The average citizen has not. Every year as the evenings grow longer and the winds begin to howl, I come back to V for Vendetta and hope against hope that corruption will meet the fate of Guy Fawkes. Ironically, few turn to religious organizations any more in the never-ending search for social justice. The trenches in which many denominations have chosen to die are those of sexuality and male dominance. Meanwhile, women and men both are aging, and the very structures we put in place to ensure they could rest after lives of hard work are being eroded. Behind every mask, it seems, hides the face of a politician.

Photo credit: Vincent Diamante, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Vincent Diamante, Wikimedia Commons

Voting Vicissitudes

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and plot. I know of no reason, why the Gunpowder Treason, should ever be forgot.” Election day fell on November fifth, and as I watched V for Vendetta again, I was reminded how true it rings. Religious leadership takes over government, the common person becomes an enemy of the state, and criticism is treason. Tea, anyone? I’ve always had a soft spot for dystopias, but the world of V is entirely too plausible at times. I have watched rational people transformed by fear and the certainty of religious dogma into those who will do what they are told without question. The movie always gives me a profound hope that the human spirit is larger than the powers that be. V can also stand for Vote.

I cast my ballot knowing that a vote against a governor who enjoys the bully image was indeed close to a lost cause. People are enamored of power. In my deepest Jedi dreams, however, I know that the most powerful moment in Star Wars is when Obi Wan turns off his light saber to allow himself to be struck down. There is a power, one upon which entire religions are premised, in the self-sacrificial act. It’s not that I have anything against Parliament; I saw it just this past year and enjoyed the experience in a way that Guy Fawkes could perhaps not have appreciated. As Evey says, “this country needs more than a building right now. It needs hope.” I guess we can hold on another four years. V can also stand for five.

“He’s a deeply religious man and a member of the conservative party. He has completely single-minded convictions and has no regard for the political process. Eventually, his party launches a special project in the name of ‘national security’.” So V tells Finch concerning a dictator who could be wearing any number of political masks in our world. We hand power over to those who encourage our fears rather than those who inspire our imagination. Camelot died in 1963. It is not so difficult to imagine a world so much better than the one we’ve constructed, but plutocracy does prevail when people do not take the implications of their religion seriously. When we only glance at the surface, the deeper message gets lost in the mythology of it all. November fifth is a myth that still has the potential to change the world. If we would allow it.



“Remember, remember the fifth of November.” Election day is upon us and my mind goes to V for Vendetta. The movie is about oppressive regimes and, more importantly, people finding a voice. It is a strongly emotional film for me not because of the violence, but because of the symbolism. Yes, V is out for vengeance, but we are all V, having been co-opted into a system that doesn’t seem to have our best interests at heart. At least we can vote. The scene at the very end, where V’s future, alternate universe gunpowder plot succeeds, always leaves me with damp eyes. By virtue of watching many movies, I am not prone to shed tears at what I know to be fiction. But some fiction possesses a verisimilitude that fact lacks. V for Vendetta is one such fictional vision.

I grew up a Fundamentalist Republican before such a combination was de rigueur. I also grew up believing in liberty, an idea that often resonates with those who don’t have much in the way of material goods. At least we have our freedom. By the time I attended a Christian college, I learned the error of my ways. I asked around to find out why America always seemed to get involved with conflicts under GOP administrations. I learned that, in some cases anyway, belief that Armageddon was around the corner motivated such wars. Even some presidents believed, as their religion taught, that the end of the world was nigh and it was their duty to hasten the process. Be careful what you vote for.

As I stood in long lines waiting for a bus out of New York City yesterday, I listened as other passengers wanted to talk. Hurricane Sandy left many people in poor circumstances, feeling the pain that is only alleviated by sharing. They told of devastated neighborhoods where people who hardly knew one another came together, naturally, to help each other. I listened to descriptions of those with power opening their houses and sharing their food with people they didn’t know. It wasn’t because the government forced them to—they did it because it was the right thing to do. When I watch V for Vendetta I don’t cry because I approve of violence; I have been a pacifist since childhood. I cry because the vision of justice prevailing is so beautiful that no other response seems appropriate. With that vision in mind, I am heading out to vote.

Bonfire of Vanity

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot…” V for Vendetta is movie that gets me every time. It is not that I want to see venerated buildings destroyed, but I do want change. Very badly. When visiting Occupy Wall Street last week, I saw protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks, made popular by the movie V for Vendetta. Verily, I had to smile. We may remember the Gunpowder Plot and how the victorious forces of the monarchy stopped Guy Fawkes just in time, but how often do we remind ourselves that the story revolves around religious liberty? Finding their religion outlawed, Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators tried, in a very unorthodox way, to make a very valid point: conscience cannot be legislated. Indeed, in the movie, the political powers claim that it is “Godlessness” that has led to the villainy, the decline of society. In fact, however, it is that the vices of the rich and powerful have turned them against their voiceless commoners; vanity has led to this dystopic future.

Once more we find ourselves at vespers on Bonfire Night with wealth firmly in place, political, religious, and economic powers secure. And many cold, hungry, and without a vestige of hope. I’m not sure there is a solution to this problem, but if religion has taught any lesson of value at all, it is that we must try. We must venture to make the situation better. Even those who wallow in the status quo want growth and development, albeit for themselves, claiming it only a venial sin. If the human race is not to go extinct, ossified before its computer screens, iPhones, and televisions, we must use our voices. We must stand, and it is vital that we stand together.

“An idea can change the world,” V tells Evey near the beginning of the film. Once the leaders of the government take military control, the freedom of expression is soon vanquished. Books are not to be found, visual art is considered dangerous. Questioning those in power is the very stuff of treason. In my short time I have seen us coming dangerously close to that mentality and calling it visionary. When people are afraid they will close in around the virile leadership of guns and violence. But fear may be vanquished in another way. When we recognize that we are part of something greater, when we relinquish what is “rightfully” ours to help others, when we join in that great collective called humanity, fear itself will vanish. It is not just vaunted Wall Street that must be occupied. No buildings have to vacillate and fall. We must Occupy our Minds, for rage as they might, the wealthy and powerful cannot control a venerated idea. “Remember, remember, the fifth of November…”

Villain or visionary?

Tale of Two Anarchies

While snowbound over the weekend, I reread William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I recalled a profound sense of awe from when I read it the first time in college, when students are invincible and optimistic. The second reading was still rewarding, but the message seemed darker, more true-to-life. Children on an isolated island devising their own schemes of democracy cannot repress the deep urge for self-advancement. When it comes to working together for the common good or promoting one’s own will, the latter wins out and seeks to destroy all dissenters. Anarchy becomes their natural state.

A few weekends ago I finally got around to watching V for Vendetta, the Wachowski Brothers’ dim and hopeful dystopia where individual conviction wears away at a conformity that benefits the privileged class. Recasting Guy Fawkes as a hero, albeit a tragic one, is a bold move in the post 9/11 world. The anarchy here leads to a rule by consent, the oppressed rising up as one to say “no more.” Even V is dead so there is no one to lead.

Better together?

Anarchy is a frightening prospect. Most people feel more comfort in the rule of law. One time I joined a discussion my brother-in-law was having with some friends on the rule of law. They were suggesting that if rule of law could be brought to bear on the Middle East then the seemingly continual crisis there might terminate. I disagreed from the far end of the table, not close enough to hear the whole conversation. My rationale is that the utter conviction of religion trumps the rule of law. Rule of law assumes all are equal, but religion in a monotheistic theater always assumes only one is right, and therefore superior. All others must submit. Problem is, many monotheistic religions feel the same way. We see it in the extreme power structure of the Religious Right in this country. Who is willing to say maybe the rule of law is superior to the rule of God? Watching the graceful anarchy of V, and reading the disturbing anarchy of Lord of the Flies, sometimes even the most stalwart free-thinker wishes everyone would bow to the rule of law.