Yesterday was Beltane, May Day, the celebration of summer, the ancient Celtic/Gaelic festival celebrating fertility, new life, transition.
All over the world, people came out to march and celebrate another meaning of May Day, international labor day: folks gathered to honor immigrant workers, to demand better working conditions, higher wages, real security.
And how did the powers-that-be in the USA honor and mark this day? They held up the body of a dead man.
Last night my neighbor came over when I was in the middle of watching the 1980s version of the play Camelot at the Winter Garden (which, by the way, was pretty fascinating given my having just completed The Mists of Avalon — the characters are all totally different, even though they’re ostensibly telling the same story). F! was out to see Sean Dorsey’s History of Love, and I was sequestered away with my cold-and-allergy-runny-nose-achy-sneezy self, painting fingers and toes in an attempt to stay awake long enough that I could get a decent sleep. I was midway through the play, a bit past where Arthur speaks about wanting to create a kingdom where “violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness.”
There was a knocking at my door. I figured it had to be my next door neighbor — was she checking in on me? did she want to know where I’d been? Was Richard Harris‘ singing just too loud? Was his makeup too loud?
I peeked out the door and said, Hello?
Osama Bin Laden is dead! She told me. We killed him, like a week and a half ago, he’s dead! She was animated, excited, but there was no return excitement for her to meet in me. She went back down the porch to her door, I apologized for not letting her in, didn’t want her to get sick. Oh, me either, she said. I’ve been sick, too.
I closed the door, made some more tea, then turned off the terrible video recording of Camelot and checked out the network channels, which were mostly all tuned to some version of nightly news special report, the ticker tape scrolling down at the bottom of the screen, Osama Bin Laden is Dead. Were we in the Wizard of Oz? Was he the Wicked Old Witch? What possible difference could it make, now–nearly ten years after September 11, 8 years after the invasion of Iraq–that we have killed this one man? Will it bring the wars to an end, since, ostensibly, of course, this was the reason that we went to war? Will we immediately withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, now that our mission is complete?
The people on the tv were hasty to say, to repeat, how good it is that This Part is now over — let’s not get confused, let’s not remember our past: Killing Bin Laden now is only a part of our mission in the Middle East Wars Of–I mean Against–Terror. Supposedly the President was going to come on and make a statement to the nation — he was delayed, maybe, because they had to let everyone in Congress know about Bin Laden first. And then, when President Obama came on the air, this Nobel Peace Prize winner, he sounded like every other war monger. I wanted him to sound different. What did I want him to say? What if he said, We regret this and ALL the loss of life over the last 10 years since 2001, and then, too, before that? We are now going to immediately bring all of our soldiers home, we are going to send money and resources to the people of Afghanistan, we are going to stop building up ‘allies’ like Bin Laden who we can turn around and go to war against when they don’t do our bidding… no, he didn’t say any of that. I wasn’t watching the beginning of the speech, since I was flipping back and forth between the talking heads and KOFY-TV’s dance party. I just couldn’t keep listening to this us we’ve become, or that we’ve revealed ourselves to be: we’ve killed him and we have his body, repeated over and over, we have his body we have his body.
Obama didn’t speak for very long — I listened to him talk for just a few moments: we didn’t choose this fight, they brought it to our shores, but we will be fierce in defending ourselves. Who were we, those of us who thought Obama would be different? Geraldo came on channel 2, Fox News, and said that there were people gathered outside the white house chanting USA, USA! Why? Did my neighbor think I would bounce with joy, think I would hold her to me, think I would cheer his death? I would like to be able to cheer and sing, to dance in the streets, I would like to be able to jump for joy at the actions of my country. Murder isn’t one of those things I cheer for (there is maybe one man’s murder I would be happy to hear about, and even that fact is one I have mixed feelings about). Our actions in the world do nothing to keep the possibility of another Osama Bin Laden from rising up to leadership preaching the evils of the united states of america. Even now, we are grooming the next generation of killers at the School of the Americas, on our own soil. Even now, we have a legacy of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to answer for. Even now, we are playing out this same cycle of fairy tale-“with us or against us” madness, which would be easy to dismiss if it didn’t mean the killing of civilians and soldiers every single fucking day.
I do not celebrate today that this man has been killed, I do not take part in this blood lust. If we want to send a clear and bolstering message to our troops, if we want to give them a ‘shot in the arm,’ why on earth don’t we bring them home? Bring them home.
Where “violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness,” indeed. What if we lived in this world, what if our leaders were brave enough to embody and forward such a mentality? What if we ourselves begin to embody this possibility, so that our leaders may follow us? What would our May Day look like, then?
(Keep writing, keep writing. It matters. Thank you for your words today.)