September 2, 2009 | HARMLESS UNTRUTHS


Today DCist highlighted as “photo of the day” a scan of a letter about the photography policy of the Department of Transportation. Here in the nation’s capital, there is a lot of conflict between photographers and the various types of security personnel at the various federal agencies, landmarks, foreign embassies, international agencies, etc, etc. I have an opinion about this (pro-photographers’ rights, anti-security paranoia), but thinking about it today I had a different reaction than normal.

I felt grateful to live in this country! This doesn’t happen to me all that often. But I felt grateful that we have an ACLU, and enough engaged citizenry to make an impact. For all my many, many frustrations about politics, and all my disappointment in the lazy American people who support nonsensical policies when not busy watching So You Think You Can Dance?, this country can occasionally still impress me.

I had this odd swelling of pride because this morning, over breakfast, I read this terrifying article by Charles Bowden in Mother Jones, which I highly recommend reading. It’s about a Mexican journalist’s quest for asylum here in the U.S. He was fleeing the Mexican army, which reigns with impunity, fighting versus the narco-cartels for control of the drug trade. There is nowhere to run when the army is trying to kill you, so he’s exiled on this side of the border and hanging on.

It is a truly awful situation, and I think the U.S. is complicit in many ways, and has an obligation to help our neighboring country aside from the “Plan Mexico“/Merido Initiative. But at least domestically, for all the civil liberties we’ve tossed aside, I don’t see the American people ever accepting the military terrorizing the people. Maybe that is a naïve belief. It is easy to imagine scenarios where average Americans cheer on troops fighting the “War on Terror” against domestic enemies. But if the current weird right-wing protesters prove anything, it’s that the anti-government, anti-elite strain of American politics has not died out. And while I would like to see universal healthcare, I am also glad that Americans distrust the government. I wish they would distrust it a lot more, actually.

Anyway I am not saying that photographer’s rights to are as important as the right of journalists to live without intimidation. But there is a spectrum of authoritarianism, and I’m just glad that there is push-back still to be found in America. I read the international news. I notice when Russian human rights activists disappear. I notice when “color revolutions” from Burma to Belarus are brutally suppressed. The U.S. has corruption and serious flaws, but it is still a pretty great place, and I’m incredibly lucky to have been born here.

Cue up some lame patriotic music — though I guess we can all get behind this: