Standing on principle is a fraud. It is a lawyerly equivocation and obfuscation of the truth. It is a way of being morally corrupt but legally sound. Standing on principle assumes we all share the same principles. Evidence a Mob lawyer who stands on principle for his client. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden stood on their principles. Siding with an economic system over the Constitution or the Bible, Koran, Torah…is standing on a principle. Principles can be bought and sold, or rented. Human Rights are fundamentally different. There can be no equivocation on Human Rights without sacrificing your own in the process.
In June 1989 I stood before the Chinese Consulate in Chicago imploring fellow artists to stand with the protesters who were being slaughtered in Tiananmen Square. A few years later I defended the First Ammendment over an
attempt to shut down an anti-crime art exhibition. Ultimately standing for Human Rights landed me in Bosnia as a witness to the siege of Mostar, Sarajevo, and the Genocide of Bosnia’s Muslim population. I was willing to risk my life for these ideals and to stand on the side of the weak and voiceless. Principles make no distinction between weak and powerful, or between the voiceless and those with the means to flood every discourse with their own message.
Indeed, I was raised on those ideals. I grew up during the Civil Rights issue, taking to heart the messages of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, both being 2 sides of the same beautiful coin. i believed in the post-Holocaust pledge of “Never Again,” those words resonating ever stronger when we visited a Lakota schoolmate on a South Dakota reservation during the Wounded Knee uprising, witnessing first hand the appalling conditions imposed upon them for almost 2 centuries by “Men of Principle.”
In October 2001, the nation still reeling from the terrible atrocities of September 11, I once again found myself standing for the voiceless, preparing and willing to put everything on the line when a CEO made an irresponsible statement threatening the lives and livelihoods of friends and co-workers. Before television cameras, I challenged that statement. An hour later I faced retribution for the audacity to speak my mind to the Press, just as the Constitution prescribes and conscience demands. But I stood against a giant corporation and prevailed. Later my wife, unwaveringly supportive through all of it, remarked, “I’m proud of you, but if we’d had kids I would have killed you.”
I knew what she was saying, and knew that my emotions tend to run away with me at times. But if we had children and taught them nothing else, it would be that I would always keep a roof over their heads and food in their belly, but that they should stand for something.
These are the reasons I am a Liberal and a Progressive. The powerful don’t need champions, advocates and allies. Their’s are the highest paid salesmen money can buy, filling our airwaves, papers and televisions with carefully crafted and stunningly packaged messages meant to evoke sympathy fear and loyalty to the powerful. The poor and weak have no such voice. What is the defiant voice of a single man against the deafening thunder of a corporation or corrupted government? This is why I am a Liberal and a progressive, for to abandon one man’s Human Rights ultimately is to abandon my own.