Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
June 29, 2011
IN THE drafting of any petition, there is always tension over the language and images you use in order to inspire, frighten or convince people to sign. Whatever your particular fight is, you tend to want as many people as possible to sign, which means you usually make the petition as non-threatening or as agreeable as possible. For example, in petition drafting – even if you detest or hate something – it is far better to speak positively of a counter than to spit derisively on the actual loathsome object of your petition. This means that while a petition should be informative and specific, it can often be vague and pointless with banalities and comforting imagery meant to rope in as many wayward souls and their signatures as possible. Therefore most draft petitions are such that either no one can be against or everyone should be for.
It sounds like an easy enough task but it can be tricky, as we have seen in recent weeks with the case of Para Hita Todu and their petition in support of the military buildup. When I read the petition for the first time, I thought I had uncovered something kept secret in some Fox News laboratory. I sometimes imagine that all of the ridiculous and divisive things which conservatives and Republicans say to make themselves seem patriotic or deflate the patriotism of their opponents must come from a tall, smooth black obelisk, similar to the one that appears in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It appears that Para Hita Todu in the conjuring of this petition made a pilgrimage to that rock, as if Muslims traveling to the sacred Kaaba. Once there, rather than having a meeting about what would be the best thing to put in their petition, they simply cut slivers of that foreboding black stone; and when each piece landed on the parchment, they brought it shimmering and contorted into five glittering generalities – one about jobs, one about Guam’s future, and three dealing with the troops and freedom.
These are all things no one can be against, or at least no polite, God-fearing, apple-pie eating, hybrid-hating American is supposed to be against! And while few to none would ever openly challenge these points, they are, like many things, stronger and more potent when they are unspoken or implied. Rhetoric like this is sometimes deployed in ways to silence an opponent or make them appear to be against the things no one should be against, and it can be effective in this strategic context. But in an everyday sense, it is better not to speak these points, since they can have the unintended effect of bringing out the ideological åguaguat in people.
This is the tricky dynamic that waits within anything which can be considered commonsensical or something that all should or must stand behind. On the one hand, it can give you a sense of security, a strong normal identity and anggokuyon community as you are joined by so many others who obviously support things such as freedom, troops and jobs. This can change quickly, however, as the things which once bonded you in a positive sense through a feeling of being safe and normal in your ideological beliefs can change into bonds in a negative sense. These ideas can quickly transform into ideological chains, things which you still may believe in; nonetheless, you still feel the need to chafe against, to struggle against, because they now feel like things you do not choose freely but are instead obligated to accept. These petition statements are things you might normally love and adhere to, but when presented in such a way begin to feel as if they are orders issued through the social superego; they are not the endearing ties of a community, but rather commands for membership.
This is one of the reasons why these types of petitions, which appear at the onset to be ideal, can nonetheless toil to find traction and to make a connection with people. These petitions show a place in the world already carved out for you, waiting for you to sign and accept alongside freedom and other nice-sounding things. But petitions are not supposed to work like that, they are supposed to be things which you choose freely to support, and so when those who read it no longer feel like these are things they should support – but rather things they must support – you’ll find people being uneasy, uncertain, and resistant to things they otherwise would accept.