By Frank Kimbrough
There's been much discussion recently about musicians voicing their political views. I'm of the opinion that it's not only our right, but our responsibility to do so. Since 9/11, the Bush administration has characterized disagreement with decisions made by our government as unpatriotic or un-American, but I couldn't disagree morenot for musicians and not for anyone else. The administration's suppression of dissent and the resulting silence (or apathy?) is largely responsible for the sorry state of affairs in our country and it's now more important than ever for those who care about the preservation of humanity to take a stand for sanity.
With the president's messianic sabre-rattling towards Iran and suggestions of possible limited nuclear strikes, other frightening developments in the Middle East, North Korea and the genocide occurring in Darfur (which has been shamefully ignored), I fear for the future of our planet. Music may be the healing force of the universe, as Albert Ayler so famously said, but I'm afraid it won't help much in the event of World War III.
The upheaval and pain visited on the world by our bullying and arrogant administration is alarming. Despite their claims of progress in Iraq, scores of innocents are dying every day. We've opened the door to civil war in Iraq and to seemingly endless war in the region. Over 2,500 US troops in Iraq have died due to a senseless, invented war based on lies, greed and misinformationa culture of fear sounding an endless drumbeat for nearly five years. Many troops currently serving are on their third or fourth tours of duty, many stop-lossed after their service should have ended, unable to come home to their jobs and families. Then there are the 17,000 troops injured, quietly returning home with physical and mental damage that will destroy their lives and those of their families. Seldom mentioned are the 35,000 innocent Iraqis, including children, killed in collateral damage. And how will the depleted uranium in the bombs our military rains down on their country and with which troops and civilians later come into contact manifest itself after the bombs have done their initial damage? Only time will tell.
The Supreme Court and Congress have only recently begun to show some much-needed backbone, but the Constitution and Bill Of Rights have been shredded in a checks-and-balancesfree power grab by the executive branch. The administration has detained people (even American citizens) and held them, unnamed and in secret, without charges, access to lawyers or the ability to communicate with their families. Many have been tortured, or sent to countries where they may be tortured without the US having to bear responsibility. Secret prisons have been set up outside the US. Overseas phones calls are illegally wiretapped and our Attorney General recently suggested that warrants may be unnecessary for domestic calls. They're looking at our emails and who knows what elseall in the name of freedom.
Meanwhile, corruption is rampant and friends of this scandal-a-day administration receive huge no-bid contracts for work that often goes undone. Nearly 300 billion dollars has been spent on this fool's errand and by 2009 it'll be half a trillion. Our poorly equipped armed forces are stretched to the limit. With Reserves and the National Guard deployed in Iraq and with many officers leaving the services the moment their commitments are finished, we're not even able to respond properly to our own crises (witness hurricane Katrina). Veterans' benefits have quietly been cut and over 250,000 veterans have been denied VA health care since 2003, according to the Harper's Magazine Index (April '06). Ineptitude and incompetence are rewarded with promotions and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, yet the press isn't allowed to show the coffins of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and our president has yet to attend a single military funeral. We're supposed to go on with our lives, without the average American being asked to make any sacrificeswe're only told to continue shopping, as though nothing's wrong. Well, something is wrongthis is no longer the America I used to know. Let's call it "New America", because that's what it seems to have become.
So why the rant? Because as a jazz musician, I see our music as one of America's greatest gifts to the world, with qualities that represent, to paraphrase the existentialist poet (and Secretary of Defense) D. H. Rumsfeld, "Old America". There are a few things our administration and congress could learn from us jazz musicianssuch as listening and working together democratically, which jazz musicians do nightly; such as living within our means and avoiding deficit spendingwe must, as few musicians in any genre enjoy the luxury of wealth; and striving to break down racial and class barrierslet's face itif you can play, nobody cares how you look, how much money you have or where you come from. Seeking justice, truth and beauty is at the root of what most jazz musicians are about and as an aside, I find it interesting (and perhaps instructive) that the only two American presidents in history not to have a piano in their home are Bushes 41 and 43.
As a working musician, I travel abroad frequently and meet many people who are disappointed, confused and angered by our country's behavior the past few years. They don't blame the American peopleat least they didn't before the last (s)election (3.5 million votes weren't counted)they place the blame squarely with our administration. We're losing the trust and cooperation of our allies, sadly, because after 9/11 we had the empathy and support of the entire civilized world. Most of that goodwill has been squandered by a foolhardy, reckless group of power mongers, hell-bent on dreams of empire. (try googling "Project For The New American Century"). Why is it that after traveling all night, I have to try to explain the insanity of our administration's actions to a hotel clerk in Italy before I can get the key to my room?
Perhaps if our government spent more resources and physical effort educating our children, helping those less fortunate among us and working to ensure a modicum of honesty and governmental transparency and wasted less on prison building, corporate welfare and misleading the American public about an illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation that shouldn't have happened in the first place, the public could be well informed enough to elect a government that wouldn't make such explanations necessary.
Many folks don't feel a need to be politically involved, but it's "we the people" who decide whether we live in a plutocracy, an autocracy, a kleptocracy or a democracy. It's "we the people" who hold our government accountable for its deeds and misdeeds. We must do our best to stay informed, speak truth to power and when it's time, make the changes necessary to (to quote Ornette Coleman) focus on sanity.