Sunday, November 18, 2012

Let Freedom Ring...I Think

The other night my telephone rang. I glanced up at the clock and saw it was after ten o'clock. This told me two things: It wasn't a telemarketer, because they finish up by nine o'clock according to federal law, and that meant it was something important relating to a family or a friend. I looked at the caller id, and sure enough, it was my best friend from back home. I snatched up the phone, a thousand different scenarios playing through my head. Was her son in a car accident? Was her marriage in jeopardy? Did her daughter get sick and was now in the hospital?

None of the above.

Her brother had called her asking her opinion about what she thought if he signed the online petition for Texas seceding from The United States. Obviously expecting something completely different, I was speechless for a moment.

I don't know if any of you have ever hopped on over to We the People to check out what's going on in the American petitioning arena, but if you haven't recently been by, it might be worth your time to stop in and check out all the states demanding secession from The United States Union. (Oh, and there's a couple petitions in there wanting to preserve The United States and others asking for the legalization of  marijuana, to allow 4x4 vehicles on recreational lands, and the Twinkie initiative — which is linked to this story, in case you're interested.)

A couple of months ago, Sister Stephanie attacked the issue of free speech in the U.S. Now, I know many outside of the U.S. are aware of our freedom of speech over here, but how many even know what the freedom of petitioning is all about or why it's even an important issue in the first place? Hang onto your seats. I'm going to give you a short history lesson in petitioning.

According to the United States Courts, this is how they sum up an American's Right to Petition:
"The First Amendment includes a provision that says that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the right of the people . . . to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Although there do not appear to be any Supreme Court cases that precisely define the contours of this provision of the First Amendment, it reminds individuals that, in a democracy, it is the Government's job to redress the legitimate grievances of its citizens.
The judiciary redresses grievances whenever it determines that constitutional or other legal rights have been infringed upon, and then attempts to remedy the situation. The Congress redresses grievances when it changes bad laws. The Executive Branch redresses grievances when its administrative agencies change inefficient regulations. When the President pardons someone who has been justly convicted, but for whom extenuating circumstances exist, he also may be redressing grievances. Thus, although there is no definitive interpretation of this clause of the First Amendment, it seems that each branch of government has specific means available to it to redress the grievances of the citizenry."
This might not seem like much to some people, after all it almost sounds like it gives U.S. citizens the legal right to whine when we aren't getting our way. But, think about it for a minute. The U.S. wouldn't be The United States if we didn't have the right for our voices to be heard. Before we broke free from Great Britain in the 1700s, we were a very oppressed nation. We weren't allowed to speak out against a king who ruled us from clear across the ocean — our pleas for change went unheeded. We weren't allowed to levy our own taxes, but instead we had to put up with what King George wanted in order to fill his own coffers, without so much as a careless glance at those struggling to survive on a continent he really knew nothing about. It's no wonder that the founding fathers of this United States wrote into the First Amendment of the Constitution the right for us to send our list of grievances to the government. The people wanted to be heard, plain and simple.

Perhaps you're wondering how this petition thing works. According to NPR in a recent article, "People From 20 States Ask to Secede on White House Website," twenty different states (as of this writing, more than twenty states have added petitions) are asking for the right to "peacefully" withdraw from the United States of America in order to form their own individual countries (or in some cases, join forces with other secession states or create entirely new states, like the city of Austin seceding from Texas or the State of Jefferson created from carved out portions of northern California and Oregon). In order to even have a chance at the President looking at such petitions, they must garner at least 25,000 signatures. Texas is leading the pack with over 113,000 signatures and growing. And the list of states runs the gamut, from Maine to Missouri and from Virginia to Colorado. Most of the secession demands are pretty general and clearly written.

For example, here is what Illinois states:

As the founding fathers of the United States of America made clear in the Declaration of Independence in 1776: 
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." 
"...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government..."
But there are few petitions also circulating demanding that certain states remain part of the United States.

Here is North Carolina's pledge:
We ask the President to affirm that the quiet strength of this great nation lies in a patient and powerful unity that transcends and transforms our differences and does not waiver in the face of impetuous and petulant indifference to the rule of law.
We pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We do not support secession.
We the people of North Carolina will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We ask the President to recognize our commitment to the endurance of our extraordinary union.
I don't know about you, but I find all of this fascinating! Current events are what shape and mold the world in which we live. I'm aware that most of the signatures on the secession petitions are from those highly disgruntled over the presidential election results. I'm also aware of the fact that all of these petitions are a crapshoot. I mean, really, will they actually secede? Considering what happened back in the 1860s, my hope is that we all learned a lesson or two then and that secession is not only a daunting task, but a very expensive one at that, both in money and lives. But here's my question: Since some of these petitions are well over the 25,000 signature mark, will the President of The United States even consider looking at them? I don't know, but that's the whole idea behind the Right to Petition as put forth by the U.S. Constitution, a wonderful legal document that the founding fathers had drawn up for this very reason. 

Seceded Southern states, 1861

But why is any of this even important? Sometimes, as writers, we struggle with shaping a story. One thing I used to love about the Law and Order television franchise is that the shows always claimed that the storylines were "ripped from today's headlines." Stuff like modern states threatening to secede is fodder for a writer's mill. I absolutely love American history and it's the one staple found in all of my novels. With this twist of events, think of the possibilities! Those of you who love alternate realities, well, here you go. Those of you who love history, well, here you go. Those of you who love contemporary literature, well, here you go. Whether you agree or disagree with any of these petitions is completely up to you. But, personally, I love seeing what's on other people's minds, ridiculous or not! I mean, hey, who isn't going to miss yummy Twinkies, so why not start a petition?

What are your thoughts concerning these petitions? Do you think any of them have a snowball's chance in you-know-where of ever gracing the desk of the President? Do you ever use current events to shape your own storytelling? Are you going to miss Twinkies and Ding Dongs?


  1. "Before we broke free from Great Britain in the 1700s, we were a very oppressed nation."

    A very contentious point with little supporting evidence. At the time Americans had freedoms and quality of life that surpassed by far every other British imperial possession (much less imperial possessions of other great powers that didn't have England's Magna Carta-based legal tradition America inherited). Ireland, India, etc, were ruled by an iron fist; and unlike Americans, they were not considered white enough, more or less. It is even arguably so that Americans, given the vast swathes of free land, had on average a better standard of living than their English peers. Furthermore, almost all founding American ideals were taken from prominent British and European political philosophers. These ideas were not banned or suppressed, Americans had access to all enlightenment writings from Europe.

    What's more, the taxes levied were a direct result of the need to pay for the debts accumulated by the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). A war in which Britain defended her North American colonies against Imperial French aggression. The "intolerable acts" were consequence after consequence of American colonists destroying tea in order to dodge taxes needed to pay for the war that defended their freedoms. The reality is not at all as black and white as many would think.

  2. Hmm. I find it interesting that their are those who believe that the United States has never been oppressed in any way, shape, or form. That all the liberties and freedoms came to the U.S. like a magic potion and not one person died trying to garner those liberties. I guess it depends on how one interprets the term oppression.

    Is the Indian Removal Act of 1830 considered oppression on an indigenous people?

    Is the inability to have a say in your government considered oppression?

    Is being taxed without having representation on the part of the colonies considered oppression? What did England do? Responded with the Intolerable Acts after the Boston Tea Party. No more self-government, no more Boston commerce, no voice in Parliament for the colonies' rights. Sounds like oppression to me.

    Would it have mattered one way or the other if England or France ended up owning the United States after the Seven Years' War? Both were monarchies wanting land that wasn't originally theirs to begin with. Even after that war, France and Spain traded off on owning territory in what is now the United States. I think the colonies would still have fought for their freedom and independent rights whether Britain, France, Spain or whoever owned them.That's just the way this part in history was set to explode. And look today. Most colonial owned lands have now become independent nations.

    Just because the United States was crafted after the ideologies and philosophies of Europe does not make it Europe. We were a colony, just like India, much of Africa, most of the Caribbean, etc. Going in and taking land that wasn't originally Britain's or France's or whoever'a creates a form of oppression no matter how you slice it. Both to the indigenous people and to those who work hard to please a government who only wants what they can get from said colony. This is why colonialism is pretty much dead nowadays. Yes, we were primarily white, because Europe was primarily white and those who ended up in the Americas drove away or killed off many of the Native American tribes. But then again, it was Europe who brought the slave trade to the Americas. So, again, another form of oppression.

    The United States has fought against oppression, we have created our own forms of oppression as with the case of Native Americans and slavery, but to pretend that it has never happened here is a false way of looking at American history. Good or bad, history happens, and no nation is subject to a static past, present, or future.

    If you're interested in a good take at what the United States went through in the beginning stages and the aftermath of the revolutionary movement, might I suggest either the non-fiction book "John Adams" by David McCullough or the film of the same title.

  3. A very timely and interesting post, Sister Mary. I had no idea about the secesion petition (I knew about Texas but not the other states). Reminds me a little of the tensions in Spain with Catalunyans wanting their independence. Interesting food for thought and definitely inspiring for writers (what if Texas became its own country again?)

    Can you believe I've never tried a Twinkie or a Ding Dong? :)

  4. I had read about the Secession Project, but I thought it was a joke, or just a symbolic gesture to call attention of how bad things are in the States. I´m glad you tell me that it´s just another bunch of people exercising their right to free speech.
    Why are Twinkies vanishing? We have our own brand in Chile are called “gansitos” (Little geese) but they are not as tasty as the Real McCoy.

    1. All this Twinkie talk is making me want to eat one!

    2. For shame, Lorena! You've never had a Twinkie?

      Okay, I have to admit that I'm not a very big Twinkie fan. Quite honestly, I can't remember the last time I ever ate one!

      As to your question, Malena, Hostess brand that makes Twinkies, Ding Dongs, etc. is filing in bankruptcy court as we speak. I believe the plan is to sell off the patents to most of the brands, so I don't really think Twinkies is going to go away. It's just another bakery company will probably buy out the patents. But, still, it's not quite same, is it? If Hostess isn't making Twinkies, then are they really Twinkies? If you click on the link following the "Twinkie Initiative" you'll be able to read the story as to why Hostess says they are going bankrupt.

    3. So there are no Twinkie-like pastries? Didn't Drake´s make something similar? Gosh I miss Drake's fruit pies. They used to make Yodels that were like Ding Dngs. As I said, in Chile Marinela makes something like a Twinkie, the only difference is that it´s chocolate-covered and the filling has jam and cream combined.

    4. There are other brands that are kinda like Twinkie, but no, Twinkies are pretty original. That's why I wouldn't be surprised if another bakery company snatched up the patent. They'd be able to continue the Twinkie, but under a different company name.

      That chocolate-covered jam and cream thing you mention sounds awfully good!

    5. I´m having one now. Pretty good but not a Twinkie. Twinkies in my memory remain light and with just the touch of sugar to apease my sweet-tooth

    6. We also have something similar to Twinkies in Ecuador, called BONY (it has a picture of an elephant in the wrapping). We also have a chocolate one called TIGRETON (with a tiger) So I have an idea of what a Twinkie would taste like. I'm not totally clueless, ha!

      You can find them here:

      Isn't it interesting how we've chosen to talk about Twinkies over secession, ha ha ha!

    7. Hey, Twinkies are pretty important to a free society, I think!

    8. Ditto! As a foreigner I feel uncomfortable expressing an opinion on American politics, and secession is strictly USA businesswhereas Twinkies are a bastion of universal freedom

    9. I'm with Lorena: I have either never had a Twinkie or Ding Dong, or do not remember ever doing so. My mom had homemade brownies and cookies around the house most of the time, so the packaged stuff never had much appeal. I know; very unAmerican of me. Maybe when Texas secedes, they can start their own union-free plastic-tasting food factory? Complete with child laborers! And fifteen-hour working days! It'll be excellent fodder for Dickens fans. Imagine Tiny Tim slaving away stuffing frosting into Ding Dongs. God Bless us, everyone! (OK, I'm conflating some Dickens books there.)

      It's good to have these petitions, probably. If people feel heard, if people feel they have a voice, they are less likely to take up arms. One hopes.

  5. I, for one, really like your Dickens' alternate universe goings on. Imagine Oliver saying "Please, sir, can I have some more." And what he gets is a Ding-Dong crammed in his face. It's the chemicals that keep the orphanage kids programmed to do the bidding! And later the stealing! Poor Tiny Tim stuck in that Texas child-labor Twinkie factory! He never had a chance.

    I like the idea of a place where petitions can be filed, like We the People. If nothing else, it's a place where one can get some things off one's chest. Ridiculous or not.


Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are the sole responsibility of each sister and do not reflect the opinions of the entire sisterhood.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.