If We Will Only Listen
By Mike Palecek
Review of "No Innocent Bystanders," by Mickey Z
Published by CWG Press, Sept. 2008
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers or families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem.
— Walt Whitman
Well, I told my wife the other day, a book has to be perfect, or I won't read it.
Ruth looked at me and her eyes said, I knew you were a piece of garbage the day I met you, you, you arrogant neo-Nebraska a-hole ... the last twenty-six, seven, eight years have been wasted.
She said, "What?"
I said, you know, I have to like it. So do you. That's what everybody does.
Well, Mickey Z's book is not perfect, but I like it.
I think you will too.
It is organized sort of like a Michael Moore book.
Part of the organization is lists of species we have lost, along with chapters on various musings, like Mickey has dumped his pockets of all the notes he made while spending the day on the subway, walking around the city, sitting in the park with pigeons on his knees, watching, making notes.
Mickey Zezima harbors deep observations of Americans and America. It is our luck that he chooses to share them.
They go to the root, perhaps like Ted Rall, maybe Dorothy Day.
He is someone not afraid of conservatives or liberals, not afraid of preserving today's lifestyle, today's routine. Someone who sees a Democrat and calls it by its rightful name.
He is a New Yorker, reporting and writing and running and walking around in the great tradition of the first New York journalists, the ancient idealists, the good guys.
We know we should do more and so does Mickey Z.
He tells us.
His lists are subtle switchblades into our stomachs as we carry our "Support The Troops" signs, laughing, pushing the pink and mauve triple-wide strollers, lapping kiwi-raspberry ice cream, on the lunch-hour protest that could not happen any other time because we have stuff to do.
"There are kids dying," Mickey stabs us in the stomach with his face in our face, twisting the knife, stepping back so not to get the slimey liberal guts and goo on his tennis shoes.
While we are a part of the painting, the living, moving painting of the sort that line the halls of Hogwarts we cannot see ourselves. Mickey holds up the mirror and shouts, "Look!"
Mickey Z has all the right friends: Arundhati Roy, Ward Churchill, Bill Hicks, Charles Bukowski.
And all the right enemies.
His lists are subtle daggers that skewer tepid types needing skewering: Nation Magazine, Democrats, liberals, legal protests, liberals, Democrats.
How did we produce such a person? That is not what we are set up to do. He is a being the sorters missed. He has escaped. He is free. He runs with the hunted, as Bukowski might say.
Fr. Darrell Rupiper is a friend of mine. He is from Iowa, now lives in Chicago. He served as a missionary in Brazil working with the poorest of the poor. He went to Iran in the '70s with a group of clerics to try to free the hostages. He also went to prison for fighting the United States military.
Now he travels everywhere trying to get people to do something about the environment, about global warming. He says nothing could be more important or more urgent.
He asked me to join him. I said, I dunno, not today, maybe tomorrow. I've got stuff to do.
Mickey Z and Darrell cry for the planet. They point and grab our jackets and try to show us where to look.
We look and with the clicker in our hand also point and click and try to change the channel.
In "Bystanders" Mickey Z shares with us his sorrow over his mother's death and relates that feeling to the sorrow others feel around the world at the deaths of their loved ones.
He shouldn't have to tell us, but we are remedial readers, special ed. students in the world university. We are Americans. If you tell us over and over again, we might get it. We might some day understand that the death of an Iraqi girl is just as much a tragedy, a loss to the world, as an American life.
We have heard and read the statistics, blah-blah number of children die each minute for lack of blah-blah-blah. But we don't see.
We need to be told again and again. Put it on TV and have girls and Chevrolets and run it past us every day for the next twenty years and we will absorb the meaning like toxins into our skin, unaware that we have received the message, but it will be inside of us.
But do we have twenty years?
We have heard the question, "Why do they hate us?"
Duh, I dunno.
Mickey Z tells us about a Guantanamo prisoner who saw another prisoner beaten to death by American boys and left to lie in his blood and body fluids.
I know that when I first heard about 9/11 my reaction was, good, someone is finally fighting back.
"We give them excellent reason every two seconds and a million more reasons every minute," says Mickey Z.
"As the Indian-born author/activist Arundhati Roy explains."
People from poorer places and poorer countries have to call upon their compassion not to be angry with ordinary people in America.
"Native American scholar Ward Churchill takes it further, warning us that the same people Roy refers to have no obligation — moral, ethical, legal or otherwise — to sit on their thumbs while the opposition here dithers about doing anything to change the system."
We should be ashamed to be Americans.
We should hate America.
I agree with Mickey Z. We are brothers in anger.
Are any of you ashamed of the epidemics of preventable diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.? ... the presidential lies, electoral fraud, limited debates ... the largest prison population on the planet, corporate control of public land, public airwaves ... infringement of our civil liberties, bloated defense budget, unilateral military interventions, war crimes committed in our name, legalization of torture? ...
Among many reasons, I hate America for the near-extermination and subsequent oppression of its indigenous population. I hate it for its role in the African slave trade and for dropping bombs on civilians ... I hate it for propping up brutal dictators like Suharto, Pinochet, Duvalier, Hussein, Marcos, and the Shah of Iran.
I was amazed to read in "Bystanders" about New Zealand sheep that learn to undo the latches and are shot before they can teach the skill to others. And I would imagine there are also American sheep who encounter the same circumstances?
But in America, as Noam Chomsky relates, sometimes the shots are subtle, soft-tipped bullets that dissolve and cannot be traced, perhaps like some faux cancer agents that might kill a Jack Ruby before he can tell us about the real cancer that is Gerald Ford, Allen Dulles and George Bush Sr.
If you come from the more privilaged classes, if you're a white middle-class person, then the chances that you are going to be subjected to literal state terror are very slight. It could happen, but it's slight. What will happen is that you'll be marginalized, excluded. Instead of becoming part of the privileged elite, you'll be driving a taxi cab. It's not torture, but very few people are going to select that option, if they have a choice. And the ones who do select it will never be heard from again. ... It could be worse, but it's enough to discipline people.
Why don't you please just leave then?
Mickey Z says out loud what many have heard from the Tories who defend America.
Well, it's like what that old famous bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks, "That's where the money is."
This is where the fight is.
This is where it is happening. Why go to Canada and eat northern pike for breakfast or to Paris to sit outside drinking coffee and writing about terrible Americans when you can be right here with terrible Americans, right next to terrible Americans, fighting them, pointing toward the ghettos and the glacier slush, shaking them awake with every breath you have in you?
Wouldn't it be more fun to play wreck-em derby with the most powerful idiots this planet has ever produced than take a melancholy boat ride through Venice at dusk?
I dunno. Maybe.
Mickey Z takes inspiration from William Blum:
I'm committed to fighting U.S. foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in the world, and being in the United States is the best place for carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I try to be an ulcer inside of it.
Mickey Z shows us again the revolutionary words of Patrick Henry, Jefferson, Lincoln, and explains that if those words were spoken now, out loud, they would not be tolerated.
Well, screw that.
Tolerated by who? Whom? Who are "they" to tell us what will be tolerated.
Stephen Biko said something like, "This is my country, I will write what I like."
That's what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about Stephen Biko and Arundhati Roy and Mickey Z, Darrell Rupiper, Ward Churchill.
They came for the Sea Mink and I did not speak out because I was not a Sea Mink. Then they came for the Great Auk and I did not speak out because I was not a Great Auk. Then they came for the Cuban Red Macaw and I did not speak out because I was not a Cuban Red Macaw.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Well, Mickey Z speaks for me, and he speaks for you. He speaks for all of us, loud and clear.
If we will only listen.