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Tim Robbins, The Brave, The Plastic Bag and The Refrigerator Magnet, or A Letter to Tim Robbins
April 18, 2003
By Elayne Keratsis

Dear Tim,

It is 8:15am in Miami Beach on a Thursday morning. My 13 year old son deposited on the school bus and the morning stretched ahead of me during which I had planned to read all the daily news, pick up around the house and prepare myself for a 6pm call as basic lower level production supervisor.

The morning hasn't gotten that far.

Instead, after finishing reading the transcript of your speech given at the National Press Club in Washington two days ago and I immediately went outside to my patio, light a cigarette I was hoping to avoid, and started to cry.

I was more than just moved by your words.

Devastated and inspired is a better description. I was dvevastated by the truth that I had been hoping to avoid, hoping things would "get better" and "blow over" instead of becoming the New American Mantra.

I cried due to a confusing set of "sobbing points" that have become increasingly more prevalent to me since the tragedy of September 11th and the frightening aftermath which has become the new state of my country and our lives as patriotic Americans.

Patriotic Americans. Those of us who love and respect our country and the concepts and ideals which make up our Constitution and go to great pains to instill the same values in our children.

Patriotic Americans. Those of us who have not forgotten that our country was created out of another government’s zest to punish individuals for their beliefs.

Patriotic Americans. Those of us who know, not just believe, but know in our hearts that in order to keep our country strong and free, we MUST protect the freedoms bestowed upon us by our forefathers - the most important being our freedom of speech.

And it is being suffocated in this country with the clear plastic bag you see in cheesy horror flicks - the bag, we know, is always clear plastic so the audience can see the abject horror on the face of the victim as he or she dies. The clear plastic bag, in this case, is of a transparent government that actually believes that most people will buy what they have been peddling - the “real” reasons for the invasion of Iraq.

As I was sitting on that patio, smoking that Marlboro, I was thinking back to a few years ago, back when my son was in first grade. He brought home a magnet he had made by himself (or so he swore - but I know the teacher didn't allow a group on little kids access to the laminator unsupervised!). It was a yellow index card magnet, created after a school assembly on conflict resolution. In black crayon, he had neatly printed "Hands Are For Helping, Not Hurting. Don't Fight. Talk About It. " At the bottom of the card, he had drawn a small peace sign and a flower.

I would be willing to bet that same school project would not be created in the same elementary school today as it was just a few years ago. Good God! That may smack of anti-Americanism! So that also made me cry with what can only be described as a furiously burning heart.

There is no “talking about it.” The Baseball Hall Of Fame event, the United Way debacle, the systematic attacks against those who now have to be categorized as brave enough to make their voices heard (something that should be as easy and accepted as breathing) are the symptoms of the growth of a new and deadly, rapidly growing disease. The outbreaks are everywhere.

In pro sports, the Baseball Hall Of Fame president cancels the 15th anniversary celebration of the film "Bull Durham," stating anti-war criticism by two of the films stars. "We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important - and sensitive - time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger."

In the meantime, Geraldo Rivera is back on Fox News apparently no worse for the wear after squatting in the desert of Iraq and outlining military movements in the dirt, disclosing locations of American troops to anyone on the planet with a satellite dish and the stamina to watch him for more than three seconds.

Things are much the same on the local level. "President Bush says you're either with us or against us! Don't you care about our troops out there fighting and dying?" my mother, a former lifelong Democrat tartly says. I counter with "We can support the troops without supporting the President." After all, Ma, Trent Lott said exactly that on the Senate floor 1998.

“I certainly don’t have any problems with the Patriot Act” she continues. “Unlike some people, I have nothing to hide!” I gently remind myself and my child that I am dead bang sure that Jews, African Americans, Catholics, Native Americans, and just about ever other group of people once thought the same thing...until the new boundaries of what had suddenly become “unacceptable” to government came into play.

"If you don't love it, shut the hell up and leave it!" says my rabid Republican neighbor, within earshot of my child. I respond that sixty years ago Senate GOP Leader Robert Taft declared "Criticism in a time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."

“They got us! They got us on 9-11 and now we got them!” says the gleeful cashier in my local retail store.”

“Who is they?” I ask politely as she slams my change down on the counter.

“THEM!” she growls.

In our corner diner hangout one of my girlfriends asks me quietly “Would you mind taking off your peace pin?” as the waitress brings menus. I am wearing a tiny black and silver peace pin on my t-shirt, right next to my little American flag.

“Why?” I ask.

She leans forward and whispers. “I’m afraid they’ll spit in our food.”

At the upscale neighborhood club where my sister works, a single patron - a Viet Nam veteran - is chastised for not standing, lighter flickering toward the ceiling when Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud To Be An American” is played.

Bewildered he says “I always stand for the National Anthem, that ain’t the National Anthem. It’s a country and western song.” A fight ensues, middle-aged polyester and fur fly.

At school, my son takes a small barrage of teasing when several friends taunt him about an anti-war protest his mother attended. I try to explain what Edward R. Murrow once said "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

What is the cure for this disease? I don’t know. I do know that I am fortunate enough to be in a business where the benchmark for keeping one’s job doesn’t depend on keeping your mouth shut about what you believe...at least not yet. The only treatment I have found, for me, is to talk about it.

And the brave are still out there. Even in this new age where individuals seem to be graded by their previous actions as to how much “freedom of speech” they are allowed.

Democratic presidential candidate and decorated veteran John Kerry recently stated "The Republicans have tried to make a practice of attacking anybody who speaks out strongly by questioning their patriotism. I refuse to have my patriotism or right to speak out questioned. I fought for and earned the right to express my views in this country."

My eighty-year-old father, himself a war veteran, easily speaks his views against the war and his dissatisfaction with the administration when asked.

“I’m eighty years old. I’ll say what I damn well please.”

My brother in law, a 6’4” ex-marine, and a disabled Viet Nam vet, does the same while pointing out various scars across his skin.

“See these? That’s my right. It’s all over my body. I’ll say what I damn well please. You got a problem with that?”

As long as people keep talking, I still have hope. Especially when those people are in the forefront of American culture and therefore the public eye. For when and if that avenue is closed, either by edict or by the corporations which ultimately own the majority of the press, and only one view is allowed across the airwaves and through the printed paper, the national dialogue will shut down. The plastic bag will tighten, and then, as we all know, the movie will be over.

In the meantime, I have to get the morning back on some sort of track. I have already begun. I straightened and dusted the refrigerator magnet and moved it to a more prominent position.

Please accept my deep and sincere thank you from all of us American Patriots out here, across the country, for being brave enough to allow your voice to be heard, above the disease, across the world and through the clear plastic bag. I for one, am very appreciative. And, thank God, once again inspired.

Sincerely,

Elayne Keratsis

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