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Julie Gray Headshot

Our Country 'Tis of Thee

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My ancestors arrived on these shores almost 400 years ago, long before the U.S. was even close to the country we see today. I am a Mayflower descendant, and also a descendant of Irish, Scottish, English and German immigrants who farmed tobacco and sheep and called dirt floor shacks their home. I come from both Boston Brahmins and English aesthetes living in self-imposed simplicity and poverty. I am a typical American -- Heinz 57. We came here from all over the world, one by one, scrappers all, seeking a better life. We were not naïve; we fled governments that betrayed us, we know poverty, we know injustice, we know intolerance.

And yet, we stand at an abyss. For the first time in my life, I am well and truly worried about the longevity of the US of A.

My generation is perhaps a bit peculiar, we grew up pre-Internet, during the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal. We grew up under the aegis of Oliver Stone, and took with a grain of possibility that the assassinations of JFK and MLK may have been plotted from within. Just a grain, though. Who knows what lurks within the hearts of men? Mai Lai. Waco. J. Edgar Hoover. Bad stuff happens. Propped up dictatorships, coups aided with U.S. money, these are fact of life; one cannot be naïve. Scandals, deadlocks and crimes have always been a part of being governed; it's unavoidable. It comes with the territory, being that we are humans and humans are, as Tony Gilroy wrote so elegantly in Michael Clayton -- incomprehensible.

I accept scandals, stained dresses and secret lovers as a part of our imperfect species doing the impossible -- governing selflessly. I reluctantly acknowledge lobbyists and corporate interests -- capitalism is a flawed experiment. But this -- this collapse and the collusion that enabled it leaves me breathless.

As troubled as it's been -- as hypocritical, genocidal and downright ugly at times -- America stands for something. Even our beloved outlaws of yesteryear were plucky and inventive, not conniving, methodical greedy thugs in suits. Our outlaws and bandits stole out of need, out of some sort of injustice. Or so our mythos tells us. But our rosy glasses are cracked.

There can be no warm glow or mythos constructed out of this economic collapse. It's not possible to cast it in another light. With a queasy grin and a greasy handshake, Americans have finally had their asses handed to them -- by other Americans who claimed to be patriotic, to love this country and its ideals. I don't know about you, but I was taught to believe that our founding fathers had something a little more elegant in mind than lying to and stealing from the very people who elected them.

An image I can't get out of my mind is that protesters are being pepper sprayed while criminals who premeditated their crimes are lounging in their mansions. Meanwhile my parents, age 71, have lost the retirement savings they guarded their entire lives. I am much more upset for my parents than I am for my generation. I grew up in a more cynical age but they did not -- they truly believed their government was by them and for them. They are heartbroken, ashamed and frightened.

The ethics of what happened in this economic collapse are corrosive on a scale that is unimaginable. My imagination runs rampant. Are we returning to feudal times, with landed aristocracy and impoverished serfs? Should you learn how to garden and weave? Collapse is a rather disturbing (and masterful) documentary which would suggest that yes, you should take up beekeeping -- STAT.

But what about our responsibility, collectively? Who is really minding the store here? You can't blame dogs for eating the trash out of the bin you left open. That's what dogs do.

"A little rebellion now and then... is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government." said Thomas Jefferson. The last time Americans really organized and protested our government was during the 1960s, when I was but a babe. So -- what happened?

We wanted a new computer and a flat screen, high-def television, is what happened. We wanted our MTV, our Coke, our 2.5 bathrooms and our new foreign car. And who wouldn't? These are nice things. I like my electric toothbrush, thank you very much.

Forget religion -- consumerism is the opiate of the masses. It reads like a science-fiction novel but damn, it works. The harsh dystopia of 1984 became an impossibility after the fall of the Soviet Union. No, a Brave New World won out -- happy pills and color TVs rule the day. The Pied Piper is the media -- a weapon of mass distraction, created and funded by corporations salivating over their third quarter gains because we shopped like sheep on Black Friday, for stuff we won't use that we don't need.

What can we do? How can we right these wrongs, pick up the wreckage and move on? There are social, economic, political and deeply philosophical questions to be asked and answered as we spill over messily into the new millennium. We are living at a tremendous historical crossroads.

Whether you put yourself into an increasingly meaningless category like "Democrat" or "Republican" -- Americans can no longer look the other way and trust that our elected officials have our best interest at heart. Dismaying newsflash: negatory.

From where I sit, there are two pragmatic steps that Americans can take as we move closer toward perhaps the most historic epoch we have ever had. One is to wake up and the other is to be significantly more discerning of our media consumption, where it comes from and what it means.

Look more closely at who is controlling the purse strings of almost every media outlet in this country. I'll go ahead and spoil it for you -- one guess -- mega-corporations. The same ones that shut down the little bookstore on your main street, and the pharmacy you used to go to. Corporations aren't evil. They are businesses. But when you put businesses ahead of community, of integrity and of common sense, well -- this collapse is what happens. We need regulations, we need checks and balances, or as history has shown time after time, greed will out. Turns out the "trickle down effect" cannot defy the gravity of greed.

The impact of this collapse will be felt for a very long time. In fact, it just may redefine how we govern ourselves. If there is one terrible mistake we can make at this crossroads it is to continue down the path of separateness, blame and divisiveness.

Forget who "they" are -- the banks, the corporations, the 1% -- there is no "they", there is only us. Assignations like straight, gay, Democrat, Republican, Arab, Jew, male, female, Chinese, American, rich and poor are increasingly meaningless -- we have to pull together for the good of us all. As America's most revered leader once said, we must appeal to the angels of our better nature. United we stand. Indeed, we are all one organism, we humans. Sharing one planet. And we all have one common interest -- to live and more than that, flourish and be well.

So what shall we do now? Be part of the problem -- or part of the solution?