William J. Astore: Giving Thanks to Our Public Servants
Having served in the military for twenty years and having police officers and other civil servants in my family and among my closest friends, I’d like to give thanks to our public servants on this Thanksgiving day. They sacrifice for us; sometimes they even put their lives on the line for us; and despite their flaws they generally uphold high standards.
And that’s precisely the point: Public servants like our police are here "to protect and to serve" all of us, especially those among us who are most vulnerable.
Likewise, our military is here to defend our Constitution and our way of life while protecting innocents from harm. They are not, and must not be allowed to become, legions of robocops or warriors. Rather, they must always be servants of our democracy, assemblies of citizens who just happen to need weapons to perform their duties. Whether they be citizen-sheriffs or citizen-soldiers, the emphasis must always be on "citizen."
As citizens, we enjoin and empower our public servants to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as expressed and upheld by the rights and responsibilities defined by our Constitution. Indeed, the military’s Oath of Enlistment and Oath of Office is to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That includes defending the Constitution at home, particularly the right to freedom of speech and lawful assembly.
That’s precisely why it’s a sad and tragic day for our country when armed citizen-lawmen are deployed by the powerful to disrupt and disperse the powerless, whether in Zuccotti Park or on the campuses of our colleges and universities. It’s a sad and tragic day when non-violent protesters are beaten and pepper-sprayed and arrested, when all the tools of “homeland security,” ostensibly intended to prevent terrorism, are used instead to terrorize peaceful citizen-protesters across our once-great country.
I say "once-great" because a great country surely wouldn’t pepper-spray old ladies; it surely wouldn’t severely wound military veterans; it surely wouldn’t beat professors or students. Instead, a great country would recognize that protesters are also public servants, that they too sacrifice in seeking to defend our Constitution. After all, if not protesters (and public servants) seeking to exercise inalienable rights, what exactly were the Founders of our Constitution?
As we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinners, we should reflect on the true roots of our national greatness: Our enshrinement of individual freedoms and liberties exercised within communal settings that are consistent with principles of human dignity and decency. True public servants support such ideals, to include our troops, our police – and our protesters, who dare to confront us with reminders of democratic ideals that we as a country are failing to meet.
Yes, protesters are public servants too, deserving of a fair hearing and a measure of respect. Yet the more we deploy armed forces to suppress such protesters, the more our democracy withers from within, even as we claim to be spreading it from without.
A nation simply cannot sow the seeds of democracy in other lands while poisoning the seedlings of democracy in its own land.
This Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the dangers of using one group of public servants (the police) to suppress another group of public servants (the protesters). Let us ponder the dangers of putting armed forces empowered by noble oaths to ignoble purposes. And let us ponder as well what suffers most when our public servants are turned against one another – and who profits most.
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