The UMKC September Project events yesterday went very well. Not as many people showed up as I thought were going to, but the conversations that took place were fantastic, probably the most satisfying exchanges I have yet had at this school. Unfortunately, none of the conservative groups or individuals to whom we extended invitations attended. One of my colleagues suggested that this is because the concept of dialogue with a diverse set of opinions is inherent to a liberal ideology but not to a conservative one. I hope this is not true.
Many valuable exchanges took place, but a few have stuck in my head. I’ll start with one and perhaps add more if I have time.
On the subject of freedom, when Zell Miller spoke at the Republican National Convention, he said this:
For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.
As my colleague Steve Dilks pointed out, however, this simple-minded statement ignores completely the work of many people who are not soldiers and who play an active and essential role in articulating, advocating, and preserving freedoms. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and their followers, come to mind. No war was fought to earn women the right to vote in America: suffragettes did the work. Legislators write into law the official recognition of freedoms, and judicial bodies consider the constitutionality of those laws. Someone has to negotiate and put into writing the peace treaties that mark the end of war and that represent the beginning of freedom. Writers and speakers have historically created the framework by which a people decide whether they will believe in and support certain freedoms. Soldiers clearly have sacrificed a great deal, but Miller’s statment is, in a word, ignorant.
At the start and finish of the two events I attended, I reminded everyone that we were taking part in a very large project. A recent email from the national September Project organizers read as follows:
September Project events [took] place on Saturday, September 11 in
all 50 states. In total, there [were] 460 US libraries, schools, colleges,
community colleges, universities, jails, community centers, and parks
With the recent addition of September Project events in Venezuela
and Singapore, there are now 8
countries participating: Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain,
Switzerland, the US, and Venezuela.
Thousands of people gathered on this day to exchange ideas about important issues, and we owe the original concept to the work of just two people: David Silver and Sarah Washburn.