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Give Me Liberty!: Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century
     

Give Me Liberty!: Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century

by Gerry L. Spence, St Martins Press
 

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Here, in this landmark personal work, Gerry demonstrates how, despite the democratic rhetoric we hear and believe, we have become enslaved. All of us are trapped by a complex web of corporate and governmental behemoths he calls the "New Slave Master" that today controls our airways, educates our children, and manages every facet of our lives.

Yet, far from being

Overview

Here, in this landmark personal work, Gerry demonstrates how, despite the democratic rhetoric we hear and believe, we have become enslaved. All of us are trapped by a complex web of corporate and governmental behemoths he calls the "New Slave Master" that today controls our airways, educates our children, and manages every facet of our lives.

Yet, far from being a pronouncement of gloom, Give Me Liberty! is an inspiring and visionary work. In the spirit of his bestselling How to Argue and Win Every Time, Spence expounds on his philosophy, thus empowering us to:

Liberate the slave within, redefine success, unchain the spirit, escape the religions of work and beliefs that enslave us, free ourselves with what he calls our "magical weapon."

Like Thomas Paine's Common Sense, Give Me Liberty! captures the underlying malaise of a country, transforming it into a national dialogue that promises a groundswell for a meaningful democracy in America in the coming years.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lawyer, writer and television pundit Spence starts his scathing critique of American society with Goethe's famous statement, "No one is as hopelessly enslaved as the person who thinks he is free." This is a wide-ranging polemic but at its heart it reflects Spence's claim that Americans of all walks of life have been enslaved by the New Master, "the sum total of an amoral coupling between government and business." Anticipating criticism, Spence (How to Argue and Win Every Time) suggests that while the lives of African American slaves were obviously worse than those of what he deems contemporary corporate slaves, "a comparison is in order." Despite the tactlessness of this approach, Spence does offer a refreshing condemnation of Americans' obsession with work and the accruing of wealth. Many other of his subjects, however, have been covered often and are simply given a fresh gloss through Spence's slave metaphor. His "Twenty Childish Questions," for example, range from why America cannot educate its young to why imprisonment rates have risen exponentially. Spence never hesitates to depart from the highway of his argument for an interesting side road; while the force of his homespun rhetoric makes for an entertaining read, these deviations detract from the book's focus. The ability to raise important social questions and attack rampant complacency while simultaneously recalling Ruby Ridge and Waco reveal Spence as an unlikely cross between a progressive lawyer and a Western populist. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Aptly reflecting its iconoclastic lawyer- author (e.g., O.J.: The Last Word, LJ 11/1/97), this book is an opinionated, idiosyncratic critique of the American condition. Spence sees us as the "New American Slaves," at the mercy of greedy, soulless corporations who control "the largest brothel in America, the Congress of the United States." By turns bombastic, provocative, and tedious, the book might have been subtitled "Money Is the Root of All Evil." Two of the 26 chapters deal with the legal system, and they are the most specific and informed. Otherwise, Spence's remedies can be vague (individual empowerment) or contradictory, as when he advocates both compulsory voting and choosing representatives by lot. Infused with conviction, this populist broadside is recommended for libraries where Spence has a following.--Gregor A. Preston, formerly with Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Kirkus Reviews
A portentous jeremiad against the state of American society. Spence (O.J.: The Last Word, 1997, etc.), America's best-known lawyer in a fringe jacket, asks here if we are free and answers (resoundingly) no. For to be free, he maintains, one must enjoy control over one's life. And as none of us can claim such control, we're merely slaves in a slave society! This "New American Slavery" may be even more pernicious than the legal slavery of old, argues Spence, because despite our bondage, we believe we're free, and because the "New Master" is both less obvious and more elusive. This New Master is not a person or a group, but rather, a system: "an entanglement of megacorporations and an omnipowerful national government." This unholy alliance forces us to serve it when, in a truly free society, it would instead serve us. We work at jobs we hate because we're told to. We allow government to tyrannize us. Though a rich nation, we unthinkingly accept the poverty of millions of our citizens as just "the way it is" and submit to the stranglehold mustered by corporate wealth over US politics. We accept all this, says Spence, because we are afraid of freedom. But if we overcame our fear, we could create a revolution: force corporations to be responsible, create new, participatory political structures, once again trust and care for one another. Spence makes important points about a flawed America, but overall this is a mishmash of feel-good self-improvement and populist bromides. His would-be reforms amount to anemic tinkerings. And the writing is truly awful, with a prose so purple that perhaps only Prince (formerly known as) could bear it. Spence has something to tell us but buries itunder blarney and blather. (Author tour)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312192679
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
09/01/1998
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.16(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

We, the People,
the New American Slaves

    To speak of atrocious crimes in mild language is treason to virtue.

-- EDMUND BURKE,
BRITISH STATESMAN

Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.

--JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU, FRENCH PHILOSOPHER, OPENING SENTENCE OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT, 1762

--THE PICNIC--

On the broad park lawn on the Fourth of July you can hear the people talking. The American dream is vanishing. They say it like this:

    "Things ain't like they used to be." It's the old boy in the straw cowboy hat and the five-dollar sunglasses talking; Alabama, they call him. He was laid off when the company was downsized.

    "Yeah," Mac, the guy in the Nike baseball cap, says. And then he says nothing more.

    Sometimes a sense of helplessness oozes up from the under-mind, and we put it down in the same way we fight nausea. Although we should be in perpetual genuflection before the gods because we are the fortunate citizens of this blessed land, still, without the power to manage our lives and to alter the course of our nation, we are not free.

    On the eve of this new century, we wonder what has happened to the glory and the dream. To be sure, we have come far. African-Americans no longer sit in the back of the bus. Women have realized their power and exhumed their rights. We change parties every four years or eight, and quit our jobs as we please, all of which argues for our freedom.

    How can we be slaves if we can quit General Motors and go to work for General Dynamics, or General Foods, or General Electric? Still, when we lose our twenty-year middle-management employment, will we find a similar job elsewhere? Or will we end up where millions have--first on the unemployment rolls, and later working as a security guard or a salesclerk at the local shopping mall, or even at both jobs, for little more than minimum wage?

    Alabama is talking to his friend. "I tol' the boss when he give me the pink slip, 'Listen, pal, I was looking for a job when I found this one. So shove it.'" Then Alabama pops another Bud.

    But the right to come and go in and out of one's employment imposes upon the New American Slave the often impossible task of marketing himself. He has become the "loose slave," a slave without a master, one who, in this new-age servitude, faces the risk of perishing in the wilderness of unemployment.

    Yet if we can exercise all of the amenities of freedom--if we can quit our jobs, holler at out our bosses, and say what we wish if we have the nerve to say it; if Alabama can call the president "a dirty two-bag pile of shit"; if we can burn the flag and worship whatever god we please; if the brownshirts must knock politely with a warrant in their hands before they can drag us off to frightening places--are we not free?

    That we can travel in the country wherever we please and sleep at night without extreme fear of the police at the door--does this not mean that we enjoy as much freedom as do any civilized people in a complex society? And if not, do we wish to know?

    What favor do we provide the polar bear born in the zoo by returning him to the harsh frozen tundra of the northland? What service does some country lawyer, some late American heretic, perform in printing these impieties? LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, the bumper stickers on the cars of patriots used to read during the Vietnam War. GET WITH IT OR GET OUT.

    But I thought then, as I do now, that the true test of liberty is the right to test it, the right to question it, the right to speak to my neighbors, to grab them by the shoulders and look into their eyes and ask, "Are we free?" I have thought that if we are free, the answer cannot hurt us. And if we are not, must we not hear the answer?

    What if we have never known freedom and have been taught to embrace our bondage, to fight for it, even to worship it?

    What if we have been born in a cage like the polar bear at the San Diego Zoo, and having known nothing else, we accept the cage as freedom?

    What if our minds have been captured and played with, our minds molded as a child molds clay, our minds formed from birth to fit within the skull of the New American Slave?

    What if our minds have been soaked in the brine of television, the voice of the corporate state that speaks to us for an average of more than four hours every day from cradle to grave and converts us into that great amorphous glob called the American consumer?

    What if we are taught in school the state religion called capitalism, a religion that condemns as heresy all that interferes with the monied class extracting yet more money from those least able to protect themselves? What if the state's religion is the religion of the dollar, a faith based on a sort of economic Darwinism?

    What if a form of subtle slavery has been taught to us, made acceptable to us, made to appear even as freedom itself? What if we are not free, but instead are taught the faith of freedom, as Muslims and Christians and Buddists are taught their faiths?

--WHAT I MEAN BY "SLAVERY"--

    By slavery--the old or the new--I mean that state in which the person has no effective control over the course of his or her life. Despite his freedom to jump from job to job or junket by jet from beach to beach, if no matter how he schemes or toils he cannot explore his boundless uniqueness, if he has lost his only power, the power of the self, he is enslaved.

    In the same way, the people of a nation are enslaved when, together, they are helpless to institute effective change, when the people serve the government more than the government serves them.

    When the course of government, like a descending glacier, cannot be altered by any action, by any petition, by any protest, by any desperate striking out, the nation is enslaved.

    When the people have at last discovered that it makes no palpable difference to their well-being which party takes power and, in despair, display the pain of their impotence by shunning the polls on election day, the people are enslaved.

    When the voice of the people has been silenced, and with straining ears they can hear only the shrieking of the New Master selling its trinkets over the people's airways, the people are enslaved.

    At last, when the same smiling politicians plunder the nation, their hands in the pockets of the corporations, and the people cannot prevent it, the people are enslaved.

    The slavery of which I speak lurks in the memories of unjust laws we call precedents. The slavery of which I speak reveals itself in our social values, in our apathetic, often unconscious acceptance of the way of things.

    To be sure, there have been changes, but the changes have occurred within the same historical structure of servitude. The structure does not change. The sense of class does not change. The notion that the few of power are endowed with the right to dominate the many who are weak does not change. The right to use up human beings for profit, to toss them out when they grow old, the right to downsize, to take away their work, to belittle the poor, to see laboring men and women and, yes, even children as the mere cost of labor--as numbers--none of this changes.

    Such are the remnants of the slave state that preceded us. We have been saturated with it under different labels, perhaps better labels: "the free market," we call it, or "free enterprise." Easy words. Words we accept at the Fourth of July picnic along with the fried chicken and apple pie while the band plays "America the Beautiful."

    If we are to test our freedom, we must be willing to reexamine our birth as a nation, for from the seed comes the flower. Those who boast that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower or took part in the American Revolution must remember that the progenitors of black America arrived on slave ships, in spaces no larger than small coffins. Chained together by neck and leg, they lay in the dark, choking from the stench of their own excrement. An observer claimed that the deck of one slave ship was "so covered with blood and mucus that it resembled a slaughter house." Some killed others in desperate attempts to breathe. By 1800, 10 to 15 million Africans had been transported to America as slaves, and some have estimated that two out of three captured Africans died before they were successfully installed as slaves in "the land of the free."

--AS THE SAPLING, SO GROWS THE TREE--

    Can we not see them--Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the others--waving the Declaration of Independence in the face of King George III, crying that, as a self-evident truth, "all men are created equal"? And in George Washington's slave quarters, when the light of liberty penetrated the fog of hypocrisy, three hundred African men and women huddled half naked and half starved, their backs bearing the scars of the overseer's whip.

    Our failing memories serve our servitude. We have sorted out the ugly, and in only a few generations we have frilled them at the edges with such images as the benevolent master who loved his slaves in much the same way as the Park Avenue dowager loves her poodle. At school our children are provided but a romantic trot across the infamous centuries of slavery that lie at our foundation. But the stench of the old slave state has permeated every pore of the grand enterprise.

    America was founded on slavery and prospered from the sweat and misery of black slaves for nearly two hundred years before the Civil War. In the four years of that slaughter, a war that produced as a by-product the emancipation of 4 million black slaves, 620,000 Americans died. In that terrible war, 360,000 Yankees were sacrificed, and at least 260,000 Rebels--in the end, over clashing notions of freedom. More Americans were lost in that infamous conflagration than the total casualties incurred in all of our country's other wars through Vietnam.

    And now, less than a century and a half later, do we think that terrible war purified the nation? We have fought other wars for freedom, and masses of our young have died in them as well. We have marched. We have beseeched the courts. We have put our faces into the faces of the politicians, those unctuous devils of slick words. But white and black alike, whatever the color of the hide, when we test it, are we free?

    The struggle between the opposing forces of liberty and slavery has always raged in America, even from the beginning. Perhaps that has been the defining energy of the nation. The Pilgrims, too, were at the feeding roots of the nation. One sees them in the mind's eye, all severely stated in their black and white, the tall Pilgrim's hat, the prim bonnets, the people stern and smileless, devoted to the virtue of work, of prudence and brotherly love.

    We see John Winthrop, a Puritan, standing in 1630 on the deck of the flagship Arbella as it lumbers in the middle of the stormy Atlantic. He is a founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and is addressing the simple, anxious flock who have come with him, these Puritans who have lately escaped the religious persecution of the English. Turning a profit, although an acceptable goal, was not the dominant theme. "Man," he proclaims, "is commanded to love his neighbour as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law, which concerns our dealings with men."

    He holds on to the mast in the rolling seas. "This law," he admonishes, "requires two things. First, that every man afford his help to another in every want or distress. Secondly, that he perform this out of the same affection which makes him careful of his own goods .... We must be knit together, in this work, as one man," he warns. The Puritans stressed community. "We must entertain each other in brotherly affection," says Winthrop. "We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labour and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body."

    At opposition to the forces of slavery was the man whose body would soon be moldering in the grave. Abolitionist John Brown, echoing the sermons of the Puritans of two centuries before, spoke of the Scriptures, saying that "it teaches me further to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done."

    And it was done, his body, sprung from the hangman's trap, hanging by the noose, swinging in soft, silent cadence to the marchers on each side who soon would clash in support of the opposing forces surrounding the issue of slavery.

    A network of abolitionists--many of them black--known as the Underground Railroad proved once more that eternal paradox--that law and morality are often at irreconcilable odds. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made it unlawful for any citizen to engage in the moral act of helping fugitive slaves escape. Yet the Underground Railroad, begun in the 1780s under Quaker auspices, had long since provided freedom for countless escaped slaves who traveled by night and who, during the day, were hidden by sympathetic whites and free blacks. At the borders, "conductors" met the fugitives and guided them safely into Canada. Harriet Tubman, sometimes called the Moses of the blacks, and Levi Coffin, a Cincinnati Quaker, were famous for their rescues. The great freedom fighters of the nineteenth century, among them William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, fought the mobs and endured the jails of petty politicians on behalf of the African slave. Indeed, the enmity created over the unlawful aid given runaway slaves and the heroic accounts of their escapes fueled the flames between North and South that would eventually excite the states into civil war.

    But the underlying conflict of that great war has not been put to rest. The struggle between the opposing forces of freedom and slavery rages on; it has only gone once again underground, where it smolders and occasionally erupts into violence. But mostly we trudge on, unaware of its pernicious presence, accepting its grasp on us as the way of things.

    That many of the Founding Fathers--including Washington, Madison, and Jefferson--were slave owners is seen as but a fascinating contradiction. We have grown used to contradictions and accept them. Democracy and the corporate ownership of our politicians is a contradiction. Free speech and the control of the airways by the corporate few is a contradiction. Free enterprise and vast numbers of the population who are so poor they cannot begin to rise up from the pit of poverty is a contradiction. That the Founders made their fervid entreaties for liberty while they laid their whips to the backs of their slaves was a contradiction explainable, we say, by the fact that slavery was an accepted institution, acceptable because that abomination had become the way of things.

    Had these courageous writers of the Declaration of Independence, those humane Founding Fathers who built "that new refuge for humanity" upon the backs of black slaves, so cultured the virulent germ of slavery that, by the time of the Revolution, the germ had taken an irrevocable hold in America as the way of things? Indeed, has the germ of slavery, mutated to its present form, proven to be indestructible?

    The first slave ship bearing twenty African slaves docked in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. And the curse spread. By the time of the American Revolution, the prevailing religion in America was profit, a religion demanding freedom for those with the power to pursue it and slavery for the helpless whose labor produced it. Slavery could be immensely profitable. James Madison told a visitor shortly after the American Revolution that he could make $257 a year on every Negro, and that the cost to him for the poor wretch's keep was in the neighborhood of but $12 or $13 annually.

    By 1776 slaves were at ignoble toil in all of the thirteen colonies. Slaves constituted 14 percent of the population in New York, 7.5 percent in New Jersey, and 10 percent in Rhode Island. As early as 1700, 6,000 slaves--one-twelfth of Virginia's population--were held in bondage in that state. By 1763, 170,000 slaves--about half the same state's population--labored for their white masters. King George III's crime was, of course, that he dared collect taxes without representation. But before "the shot heard round the world" was fired, the colonists had pressed into labor for their own profit over a million black human beings who, without tolerable food, clothing, and shelter, and without hope, toiled under lash and torture.

    But by the time of the Revolution, the ominous power structure of the nation had already been established. Five of the first seven presidents of the new union were slave masters. For fifty of the first sixty-four years of our nation's history, our presidents were slave masters. The Speaker of the House was a slave master for twenty-eight of the nation's first thirty-five years. The president pro tem of the Senate was most often a slave master. Chief Justice Roger Taney of the United States Supreme Court, himself a former slave master, held in the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 that Scott, a slave, was mere property even though he had been transported from a slave state to a free state. Taney had been appointed by the slave-master president Andrew Jackson to take the seat of the slave-master chief justice John Marshall.

    As late as 1835, eleven states in the Union--nearly half--had economies dependent upon the ignoble labor of slaves. Indeed, the government of the United States had been dominated by the slave-owning states for nearly a hundred years before the great Civil War.

    In 1798 Julian Niemcewicz, a Polish poet, spent two weeks at Mount Vernon. He claimed that the slaves' huts were far inferior to the poorest cottages of Polish peasants. "The husband and wife sleep on a miserable bed, the children on the floor." The slaves were permitted a few chickens, but no pigs or ducks. "They receive a peck of Indian corn every week, and half of it is for the children, besides twenty herrings in a month. They receive a cotton jacket and a pair of breeches yearly."

    The slave quarters at Mount Vernon were said to be without floors or windows, the latter being totally unnecessary since the cracks between the logs admitted sufficient light (not to mention the cold and the rain as well). "Our beds," reported one of the slaves, "were collections of straw and old rags, thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards, a single blanket the only covering." At the same time, at Monticello, Jefferson's two hundred slaves, while better fitted, were nothing more than disposable property, although some were direct blood relations of the president himself.

    Let us look again at the Founders without the glare of their halos. They were never the champions of the struggling masses. In the colonies, they occupied the high ground of power and enlisted powerless poor whites to support them. Possessing power, they exercised it for themselves. Can we not see slave owner Patrick Henry in his wig standing at the precipice of the Revolution, stabbing his fist in the direction of the throne, the great defender of the rights of men, ensconcing his immortal words into the wet cement of history? "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

    But who spoke for the slaves in the squalid quarters within earshot of Patrick Henry? And for the free women? And, at last, the poor? And in this ,weary, repetitive drama, who now speaks for the great masses of the powerless in America, both the rich and the poor, who have abdicated their right to govern to the corporate oligarchy?

    By 1836, 2.6 million slaves toiled in bondage in the United States, annually increasing their numbers at the rate of 60,000 a year. At one point before the nation exploded into civil war, Abraham Lincoln began to contemplate how the enormous value of the nation's slaves as property had influenced the moral judgment of the men owning such property. He told a favorite story about two preachers, one who believed the word of God would always prevail, the other arguing instead for the power of money. To support his point, the first preacher opened the Bible and, pointing to the word of God, asked, "Do you not see the word?"

    "Yes, of course," the second preacher replied. Then the second preacher put a gold coin over the word. "Now," the second preacher asked in return, "do you see the word?"

    Acknowledging that America's slaves were valued at $2 billion in nineteenth-century dollars, Lincoln argued that the power of such wealth in human flesh rendered it impossible for the South's slave owners to comprehend the staggering immorality of converting human beings to property. It was not for him to judge, he said, but "[t]wo thousand million dollars, is a pretty thick coating." Then he added, "The mind cannot grasp it at once, this immense pecuniary interest--it has its influence upon the mind."

    We remember, of course, that the Constitution was void of any specific reference to "slave" or "slavery," "Negro" or "African," which patent omission was not lost in Lincoln's 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas. That Lincoln should include blacks among those who were "created equal" was a "monstrous heresy," cried Douglas. "The signers of the Declaration had no reference to the negro... or any other inferior and degraded race, when they spoke of the equality of men." Then Douglas demanded of his audience: Did Thomas Jefferson "intend to say in that Declaration that his negro slaves, which he held and treated as property, were created his equals by Divine law, and that he was violating the law of God every day of his life by holding them as slaves?"

    During one of the debates, Douglas shouted, "If you, Black Republicans, think that the negro ought to be on a social equality with your wives and daughters, whilst you drive the team, you have a perfect right to do so .... Those of you who believe that the negro is your equal... of course will vote for Mr. Lincoln."

    The issue of slavery, said Lincoln in the last debate, "is the eternal struggle between these two principles--right and wrong .... No matter in what shape it comes, whether from a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle."

    Although slavery was never mentioned within the four corners of the Constitution, the Founders, sensing the underlying hypocrisy of their preachments, nevertheless, with the addition of the Ten Amendments, immortalized the spirit of liberty in that document. And Washington and Jefferson both publicly and privately spoke of their hatred of slavery. Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, wrote in 1781, "The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it." More recently, Jefferson has been seen as a theoretical abolitionist. But it would require the most heinous war in our history to put meaning to the rhetoric that "all men are created equal." And still we struggle with these words.

--THE HYPOCRITES' DREAM--

    The hypocrisy of the Founders did not prevent their dreaming, as shall I within these pages. Washington wrote, "I am principled against selling negroes, as you would do cattle at a market," and in his will he ordered all of his slaves freed upon his wife's death. Old slaves or children without parents would "be comfortably cloathed and fed by my heirs"; the children should be taught to read and write and "be brought up to some useful occupation... a regular permanent fund should be set up" instead of "trusting to the uncertain provision" of individuals. And no slave should be sold "under any pretext whatsoever."

    Washington went on to write in his will, "I... most pointedly, and most solemnly enjoin it upon my Executors... to see that this clause respecting Slaves, and every part thereof be religiously fulfilled at the Epoch at which it is directed to take place, without evasion, neglect or delay." After Washington died in 1799, his wife, Martha, released his slaves in December 1800, a year and a half before she died herself. The estate supported pensioners until 1833, but one must not assume that Martha's heirs did not once more, and until the Civil War itself, wield the cudgel and the whip against the black man.

--ALABAMA'S SPEECH--

    Once more we can see the people gathered at the park on the Fourth of July, the band playing, the old folks sitting stiffly in their white plastic chairs tapping their feet, the grease of fried chicken smeared at the corners of their mouths. We see and hear the children laughing, running through the sprinklers on the broad lawn, the firecrackers popping in the distance, explosions at the hands of children as idiotic as the gunfire of war at the hands of their parents. On this birthday of America, we are proud.

    The wretched pound at our borders to get in. They swim the rivers, pile like rats into treacherous old tubs, and fight the storms to gain asylum. America is the land of the free, and with the exception of the early Greek democracies, some claim it is the greatest civilized nation ever to grace the face of the earth. And perhaps that is the simple truth of it.

    But through the rolling notes of the John Philip Sousa march, through the grinding voice of the old veteran standing at the podium recounting the dead heroes who laid down their lives for our liberty at Guadalcanal, we can hear the sound of muffled voices.

    Alabama wants to climb up on the podium and grab the microphone from the speaker. He wants to holler to the people tapping their feet to the band music and munching their chips, "I worked twenty-five. years in the boiler room for the fuckin' company. I give somethin' too. Company said I was gonna get a good retirement and..." And then in his fantasy he stops, because nobody cares what the company said and nobody cares about Alabama.

    Now we can hear the band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner," and we see the Stars and Stripes floating in the high mountain air in that small town beyond the din and dirt of the cities, beyond the concrete and the madness where the people merge with each other as endless blades of grass make up the lawn. Small communities are still sprinkled across this country. Many thrive like villages within great cities. People still gather together. They assemble in their churches and hold meetings in the school gyms, and they exercise their rights.

    Then Mac, sitting on the other side of the big cottonwood tree, laughs and says, "I voted for old Bill. Some stud, old Bill."

    "Yeah. They oughta retire him to the stud farm," Alabama says back.

    "Don't make any difference who you vote for these days. None of 'em any good. Don't vote anymore," Mac says.

    The music has stopped. The old boy in his American Legion cap is getting helped off the platform. The people clap. "Look who we have to vote for," Alabama says. "The good ones don't run. Too smart to run. The smart ones are making all the bucks. Just the sleazebags run. You vote for your sleazebag and I'll vote for mine." Today, less than half of the eligible voters in the country trudge to the polls, most having come to realize that how they vote will have little to do with their betterment or the enlightened evolution of the nation. "Why bother?" is the universal refrain. "It makes no difference anymore" has become the accepted liturgy of our times.

    At last the New American Slave has come to realize that to rise up and speak out will only prove that which is worse than being struck down: to be ignored as irrelevant. Under the skin of the mule and the hide of the elephant, Democrats and Republicans are identical: They have become the bought-out, sold-out servants of the New Master. When the rhetoric fades, the same old hacks, themselves the most piteous of all slaves--slaves who have been purchased and sold to the highest bidder--occupy the same moldering seats of Congress and the same monument to hypocrisy called the White House. In passing, one thinks of Richard Nixon, who, accepting his nomination in 1968, said, "Let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth--to see it like it is, and tell it like it is--to find the truth, to speak the truth, and to live the truth."

    Then the band starts playing "America," and the mayor hops up to the podium. Now he leads the people in the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd quiet except for the children laughing in the distance. We see the people with their hands over their hearts standing obediently before the flag, muttering at the end of it, "with liberty and justice for all." After that the high school band marches off the field and the people go back to their talking, the boys throwing Frisbees, the dogs chasing after them, barking, the children screaming on the merry-go-round.

    Alabama sits on the lawn and leans back against the old cottonwood tree, the trunk as rough as rocks. He begins to sing, off-key, of course. The Bud. He sings in a half-gurgle. After his twenty-five years in the boiler room, should we expect his song to come ringing out in the clear, joyous notes of the choirboy? The singing of the crowd is over. But Alabama warbles on. No one pays any attention to him. It is as if he is expelling heavy words that make his breath come hard. "O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave," he sings. And then he doesn't sing anymore.

Meet the Author

Gerry Spence has spent a lifetime representing the poor, the injured, and the forgotten. He has tried many nationally known cases, including the murder defense of Randy Weaver, the Karen Silkwood case, the case against Penthouse magazine for Miss Wyoming, and hundreds of others, both criminal and civil. He is the founder of the Trial Lawyer's College and is a well-known television commentator. He continues to practice law in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Spence is the author of nine books including How to Argue and Win Every Time, O.J.: The Last Word, The Making of a Country Lawyer, and From Freedom to Slavery.

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