Independence Day 2005: Reflections on Patriotism
The Meaning (and Demeaning) of Life: Reflections on the Terri Schiavo Case

July 5, 2005

Independence Day 2005:
Reflections on Patriotism

Commentary by Julia Butterfly Hill

Julia Butterfly Hill
I am ashamed of my government.

I am ashamed that we have made a mockery of our Bill of Rights by allowing the newly reauthorized and expanded "Patriot" Act to give our government near-absolute authority to define dissent as "terrorism."

I am ashamed that my President speaks about "liberty," "freedom," and "democracy" yet our country continues to carry forward a centuries-long agenda of environmental destruction, social inequity, imperialism, and violence.

I am ashamed that regardless of scientific evidence pointing to global warming and peak oil production, we aren't making any significant strides towards a sustainable new society where all of us can thrive together in harmony with nature.

I am ashamed that these atrocities, and thousands more, happen in my name.

Yet this Independence Day, I am reclaiming the term patriot for all of us who don't agree with the status quo. Rather than looking at our options as set out in George W. Bush's proclamation: "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists," I choose instead the words of American essayist, Edward Abbey: "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government."

On Independence Day, we remember our founding fathers who stood up for what they believed in and risked their lives to set in motion the country we live in today. We celebrate them with fireworks, picnics and parades. But these were ordinary people who fought against the tyranny of the English government, denouncing the status quo.

America's legacy of patriotism includes other ordinary people, summoning the courage to speak out when our most treasured values and principles are threatened. Some of the most inspiring patriots I can think of include Rosa Parks, who, 50 years ago, demanded that she as a black woman be accorded the same dignity as everyone else riding the bus; people like Cesar Chavez, who took a daring stand in the fields for a better life for all farm workers; and people like Camilo Mejía, who was the first U.S. soldier to actively resist the Iraq War, relinquishing his own freedom in the process.

Indeed, every right we often take for granted today is the result of people who have acted courageously to help create a more humane and inclusive America. From women's suffrage, to civil rights, to today's movements for peace, sustainability, and global justice, concerned people have shown that activism is not only patriotic -- it's essential to making our country and the world a better place.

We cannot allow those in government to unilaterally create our country and our world. Each of us has precious talents to offer and can use those gifts to create positive change -- whether that action is voting, organizing, gardening, dancing, speaking out, writing letters, volunteering with a local cause, or engaging in direct action and civil disobedience.

I sat in a redwood tree for 2 years without coming down in order to protest the destruction of our nations' ancient forests. People come up to me and tell me all the time, "Wow, Julia, I never could have done that." And I respond, honestly, "Neither could I." In fact, when I climbed the tree, I planned to stay there for only a couple of weeks, or maybe a month. Each day, I made a new choice to stay in that tree. But for two years and eight days, the call of activism rang far louder in my ears than the call of clean sheets and a comfortable bed.

This Independence Day is a perfect time to allow yourself to hear the call of activism. It is a perfect time to reclaim patriotism -- regardless of your political point of view. Find that action that drives you day in and day out to make our country and our world a better place for all life.

Choose to participate in local revitalization efforts, voter registration drives, teach-ins, debates, marches and other events. Commit yourself to smiling at everyone you pass one day, or to picking up every piece of trash on your block. Become one of the millions of people utilizing their minds, money, voices and votes to create a better country and a better world. I promise when you find the actions that call to you most powerfully, your excitement and passion will be powerfully contagious.

And to help you out, the nonprofit, Circle of Life, has assembled some of the best grassroots resources for activism in the country, at

You, yes you, make an enormous difference. Your country and your world need you -- now more than ever. From every mountainside, let activism ring!

Julia Butterfly Hill is an activist and the bestselling author of The Legacy of Luna. In 1999, while still living in the giant redwood Luna, she founded Circle of Life ( to promote conscious action toward a peaceful, just and sustainable planet. The Legacy of Luna, the story of Julia's 738-day vigil 180 feet high in the branches of a 1000-year-old redwood, will soon be made into a major motion picture. The adaptation for the big screen is being written by Academy Award winning screenwriter, David Ward (The Sting, The Milagro Beanfield War). The film's producers, Baldwin Entertainment Group, who produced the Ray Charles biopic, Ray, have publicly announced their commitment to setting a "green set" standard for the film industry. Julia is an Executive Producer on the film.

The Meaning (and Demeaning) of Life:
Reflections on the Terri Shiavo Case

By Gar Smith / The-Edge

Terri Schiavo
(March 26, 2005) -- I started out the week wearing my "Let Terri Live" button. Now I'm wearing a button that reads "Question Authority."

It's hard not to be moved by the photos of Terri Schiavo, what with the combination of earnest smile and those Bambi eyes. She seems to be looking right at the camera. But, if it's true that Terri is, in fact, brain dead, those photos are cynical and misleading. Terri isn't looking at the camera: The camera is looking at Terri -- which makes it look like Terri is looking at the camera.

The experts claim that Terri "feels no pain," because there is no higher brain activity taking place. Terri's parents recently claimed that when they asked Terri to voice her opinion about what was happening, she murmured "Ahhh" and practically shouted "WAAAA!" The Schindlers interpreted this outburst to mean Terri was trying to say: "I WAAAnt to live!"

Of course, she could have been trying to say "I WAAAant to die!" It's a pity that the Schindler's didn't have the presence of mind -- or the presence of mike -- to record this critical Q&A.

The experts dismissed this report of a communication with the brain-dead as a meaningless guttural noise probably prompted by Schiavo's reaction to being touched. But wait... If Schivo is brain-dead and can't feel pain, then how could she be shrieking because someone touched her?

The doctors concluded that Terri's feeding tube should be removed because she is in a "permanent vegetative state." But since she's still alive, this turns the debate into another of those body-mind conundrums. Because she can't think or feel, the reasoning goes, she's a candidate for euthanasia-by-starvation.

Should someone die because they are in a permanent vegetative state? Should they be kept alive in such a state?

For a while, I wore a button that read: "Vegetarians for the Comatose." A carrot, after all, lives in a permanent vegetative state. Shouldn't carrots have the same right to life as Terri? Or course, a carrot isn't as compelling to look at. A potato, has eyes, but there's no way Virginia Russet can compete with Terri Schiavo.

There's no reason to keep the body alive, because the brain has died. But where does the soul reside in all this? The soul is supposed to leave the body at death, but does that coincide with death of the brain, leaving a soulless living body behind? Another conundrum.

"I think, therefore, I am," seems to be the guiding principle here. The Schindlers' argument, then, comes down to: "I breathe (and blink), therefore I am."

Terri's husband used the argument that "Terri wouldn't have wanted to live on life support." But, if she's brain-dead, her wants are nonexistent; there's no longer a soul to be disturbed.

The State versus the Family versus the Family
"The state doesn't have any role in this. It's a matter of the family." We've heard these protests. We've also heard folks from the Let Terri Live community argue that "family values" are at stake. But in this case, the family is divided and, when there is dissention within a family, someone gets a lawyer. And that's how we got to where we are now.

Since Terri can't speak for herself, who should speak for her? Who has the greater claim to Terri's well-being? Her legal husband or her biological parents?

The Schindler's have a list of supporters from the Republican and Christian Right who would like to see States' Rights overruled by a federal court -- a troubling precedent. Oddly, the folks praying for Terri's deliverance appear to be unwilling to let their beliefs get in the way of their Belief. They prayed for a Federal judge to take the ruling out of the hands of the state. It was assumed that once a Federal judge heard the case, Terri would be saved.

When the Federal judge ruled against reinserting the feeding tube, the prayers continued, revised, but just as fervent. It never seemed to occur to the feeding-tube advocates that, perhaps, the judge was expressing God's Will. The thought that God could have a belief on this matter that differed from their own, was apparently unthinkable. When Terri eventually dies, I fear, these ardent Christians will not say it was God's Will, they'll say it was Jeb's Fault.

The Political Uses of Life and Death
If the Christian Right has an interest in seeing Terri watered and fed, there's another powerful force that has an interest in seeing Ms. Schiavo waste away in a quick merciful death -- the insurance industry. Keeping a body alive is a costly commitment. If it could be legally established that death occurs with the cessation of mental functioning, thousands of "plugs" could be pulled a lot sooner and the country's insurers could save billions.

But this definition of death poses a problem for the right-to-life crowd. If death begins with the end of thought, not the life of the body, then life-in-the-womb does not begin with conception but only at the moment that the fetal brain begins to think and feel. This presents us with another thorny question: At what point in the gestation cycle does the unborn acquire the same level of sentience that the experts claim Terri has now lost?

And speaking of right-to-life, are the religious leaders in the Save Terri movement prepared to mount vigils at statehouses across the nation to protest the state-sanctioned murders of prisoners? If life is truly sacred, the standard has to be applied across the board.

(June 16, 2005): Today's papers carried the autopsy report on Schiavo's death. A medical team concluded that the damage to her brain was "irreversible. No amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons." The stories were accompanied by a CT scan of Schiavo's skull, showing a massive atrophy of the cerebral cortex. Brain mass had withered away to the point that much of her brain had been replaced by fluid.

The brain scans (which were so convincing that they, alone, should have ended the debate) were taken in 2002.

All this was bad news for doctor-turned-Senator Bill Frist. When Matt Lauer asked the Majority Leader if this news didn't run counter to his declaration on the Senate floor that Schiavo should live because "she was responding," Frist interupted to bark: "I never said that." Frist's denial was later replayed on Al Franken's Air America radio program. Franken then played a tape of Frist on the Senate floor emphatically stating that Schiavo "was responding."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) observed that the autopsy report "is particularly a problem for Frist. This is a direct refutation of his TV diagnosis."

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