Monday, March 3, 2008

What the Orange Ribbons Represent

Close to one billion people watched the 2008 Academy Awards telecast and saw the orange ribbons and orange wristbands worn by many in attendance, including Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Best Documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side”) and Best Actress nominee Julie Christie. As Washington Post writer William Booth, writing about the Oscars, put it: “Suddenly, we noticed -- orange ribbons and bracelets everywhere." Many were surprised to see the orange and wonder what it’s all about.

As Paul Haggis (winner for “Crash” in 2006) put it: “The orange ribbons were worn in protest against state sanctioned torture… the ribbons are the color of the jumpsuits at Guantanamo Bay, and at our secret detention camps, where prisoners are kept indefinitely, in violation of our constitution, and tortured. This is something that our government has long condemned as the heinous behavior of dictators, but something that unbelievably we now condone... Every American of any political party should be loudly condemning this grossly un-American activity, but it is barely even mentioned anymore. The orange wristbands some of us wore said simply ‘Torture + Silence = Complicity.’ I received mine from The World Can't Wait campaign.”

The history behind the orange ribbons is this: in the summer of 2007 I initiated the campaign, calling it “Declare It Now: Wear Orange.” World Can’t Wait: Drive Out the Bush Regime formally adopted the campaign, as did the impeachment movement as a whole, widely distributing orange as the color of resistance to the Bush program. A few months later the ACLU and other groups also took up the color, with their specific focus the demand to shut down GITMO.

Some of the media commentary on the orange ribbons has been to deride it as the latest, superficial fad within Hollywood. Washington Post writer Monica Hesse, for example, called the ribbons “cheap, ugly.”

I wonder what is more ugly, an orange ribbon or suffocating someone to the point of drowning by waterboarding?

An orange wristband or the black hoods put on detainees before they are hooked up for electrical shocks to their genitals?

An orange banner flying from a Church Steeple declaring “We Won’t Live in a Torture State” or a vice-president who declares waterboarding a “no-brainer?”

An orange t-shirt or a president who claims the right, echoing the exact same phrasing used by the Nazis for torture, to use "enhanced interrogation techniques?”

An orange bandana or a Supreme Court justice who says that “so-called torture” would not be “cruel and unusual punishment” because it is not being carried out in the course of a criminal procedure?

An orange headband or an Attorney General who refuses to define waterboarding, a torture technique invented by the Spanish Inquisition, as torture?

An orange flagging tape on your bag or a presidential candidate who failed to filibuster legalized torture and the creation of gulags (GITMO, Abu Ghraib and rendition) where habeas corpus rights can be stripped from you, citizen and no-citizen alike, if the president declares you an “enemy combatant?”

An orange bumpersticker or a government and mass media that lie to their people in order to justify invading another country that did not threaten us, thus committing, according to the UN Charter, the highest war crime of all, causing to date the deaths of more than a million people?

An orange armband or an executive branch and Congress that legalizes warrantless, unjustified surveillance of all of us?

The choice we face collectively in 2008 is whether or not we will allow ourselves to go down in history as infamously standing silent in the face of grave crimes, the way the Germans did in the face of Nazi atrocities.

As I wrote in my book, Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney: “It is up to the rest of us to rouse ourselves and rouse others, to bring forth from the grassroots new social movement leaders to constitute an alternative and powerful counter-force that fundamentally alters the overall political atmosphere, providing a competing legitimate authority to the bankrupt and illegitimate authority now leading this country. The existing establishment has left us no other choice.”

That so many in the Academy have chosen to speak out and take this very public stand is tremendous because people in the cultural arena constitute a critical part of that competing, legitimate moral authority.

We see the importance of artists reflected as well in many of the movies released in the last two years that speak to the monstrous crimes being perpetrated in our names. These are the very films that some have complained have been “doom and gloom.” Films like “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Rendition,” “The Good Shepherd,” “In the Valley of Ela,” “Persepolis,” “No End in Sight,” “Sicko,” and the allegorical tale of unrestrained evil, “No Country for Old Men.”

Artists have a special capacity - and special responsibility - to express our condition in ways that are larger than life. In a time when mainstream media and the major political parties steadfastly refuse to - air the majority demands for impeachment, end the unjust, immoral, illegal war on Iraq, respond to the emergency of global warming, stop the slide into unfettered, dictatorial rule and hold Bush and Cheney accountable - books, music, and art (including movies, graphic artists, and comedians) have had to shoulder an unusually heavy burden to convey truth and facts to the people. The truth has never been more strangled, restricted and distorted in its dissemination to the American people than today.

It’s a perverse irony that the best-informed young people in the country get much of their news from two satirical news shows, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. But the king’s court jesters must deliver the bad news when the official information sources are corrupted and merely scribes to power.

What many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did the other day was the kind of thing that we need to see much, much more of. Millions of people need to quit grumbling to themselves and their friends and family and wear their politics on their sleeves daily. If they do, then the fact that mainstream media and the two major political parties won’t give it a hearing won’t matter because it will be a scene that can be seen by all – orange in the streets, in the malls, in the schools, at the workplace, in the stands, on the bus, the train and the plane: we are taking a public stand against the immorality and depravity that now rules from the highest offices in the land.

We will not go down in history as “good Americans.” We demand a world in which truth and facts are the norm and where justice and fairness prevail.

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