Second Thought: Wednesday, January 19, 2005
The Fading Light of Freedom

The world turns ’round and basic rights need defending again.


Sometimes I wonder if the free speech movement on the University of Texas campus ever really happened. Sometimes I wonder if the handsome, fervent young student orator in overalls and railroad cap, Dick Reavis, called down to us thousands lost without our President, working-class young men and women heeding the eloquent reasoned call for justice. Or the spring of 1970, when Nixon’s police state turned guns on the students at Kent State. The year professors all across America closed down the universities and sent the students out to protest that cruel and immoral war — I was one of those college teachers at Iowa State University. We said “no” to the killings in Vietnam; we said “no” to the National Guard that shot us down on campus.
I remember when the world spun around, when Allen Ginsberg chanted to ten thousand students, faculty, and friends at Iowa State. I remember Allen’s peaceful plea for harmony. “Some have entered into consciousness. Some have not,” he said, explaining the hatred and the young men dead or back home crippled in their souls and bodies as well. There are those, the poet said, who feel compassion for the poor and the homeless, the hungry illegal immigrant, the people in Vietnam slashed and burned and chemically poisoned. Now the Iraqi people are being killed and poisoned. And the American poor people, prisoners tortured and humiliated for illegal drug addictions while millions of middle-class Prozac junkies buzz off to work.
There are those who have entered into consciousness. The gentle honest folks at schools who teach the children with intelligence and love. The men and women who teach Sunday school, the blues singers crying for hope in honky-tonks and clubs. Hip-hop poets with words of unity and truth holding together, the legions of immigrant bands — all the people. Those of us dismissed or never hired because we choose the poet’s freedom road. Those of us in blue jeans and work shirts — those who own neither suit nor tie nor shiny new Lexus.
My heart has always been with the poor, the barely paid, the servants, and the carpenters who scramble for gold dust sifting down from the rich man’s leather purse. Men, women, and children scrubbing their houses, vacuuming their stolen Saddam Hussein palace rugs. Poor people, soldiers young and old, lovers and mothers and fathers all fighting for freedom — the freedom of the college professor to teach Leninism, to examine the ideas of Karl Marx, to examine the root causes of the Russian Revolution, to analyze and evaluate, to study and understand all manner of knowledge for the common good of the people.
The freedom to offer political discourse. The freedom to speak out against tyranny — the poets like Lorca who’ve been killed, their voices silent, their words alive in the books, in the collective memory. Dare I teach Lorca’s revolution in the name of the poor and the dispossessed? Dare I teach about Clarence Darrow’s passionate defense of I.W.W. labor leader Big Bill Haywood? Dare I teach about old Mother Jones who walked defiantly down the streets of Denver to demand the freedom of the United Mine Workers to organize? Dare I say that Wal-Mart enslaves its employees and destroys the very free-enterprise fabric of America? Dare I offer any educated and thoughtful analysis of this mad stolen America — this land of the free with more men and women jailed than in any civilized country in the world? More people in jail here than in Red China, former communist threat and now our trading partner and friend, once the feared Great Bear, now the maker of most of our clothes. Dare I teach the students to think for themselves? Dare I ask them to honor the process of fair-minded thoughtfulness? Dare I stand as a teacher, as a man, and ask my students to seek to understand their government? Dare I ask them to remain vigilant against foolish tyrants who send the poor off to war to fight for freedom and democracy when they never enjoy those blessings at home? And dare I ask again, plaintively, after all these years, “War, what is it good for?”
On Dec. 16, 2004, I was removed from my job teaching English at Tarrant County College — the result of a student’s complaint about my showing of the film Fahrenheit 9-11. Freedom of speech — what is it good for?
Kendall McCook taught English at Tarrant County College for two and a half years.

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