I believe in tilting at windmills. In mid-May I attempted to ride a bike 100 miles from Spartanburg, SC to the top of Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft). There were 999 other riders (and 6 from my big turtles bike team). I did not make it to the top—for the second year in a row—but 4 of my teammates did. My attempt was probably doomed from the start because my training this year was not adequate; no long rides with not enough time in the saddle. A teammate recently tried to pay me a complement by telling me “John, it’s a good thing that your self image is not tied to your athletic ability.” He meant it as a complement not a comment on my questionable athletic skill and prowess on the bike. Doing what has been described as endurance riding at my age and weight is an act of Don Quixote insanity. I do occasionally succeed—2 weeks prior to the Assault on Mitchell, I completed the 3 State, 3 Mountain century in Chattanooga in 8:50.
I also believe it’s a citizen’s duty to tilt at windmills and hold the government accountable. What scares me about the current war on terrorism is that it is merely a smokescreen to restore the imperial presidency. President Bush constantly says that he has the power, without a warrant or even reasonable suspicion, to listen to telephone conversations, view bank and library records, and hold individuals with charge indefinitely in various prisons throughout the world (Gitmo being the most obvious). President Bush says that he can issue signing statements because he is president (and can).
At a professional level, I see local law enforcement adopting President Bush’s approach. At a recent hearing, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (the highest law enforcement agency in the State) Special Agent stated that anything he did was legal until he was told that it was illegal. I have had numerous sheriff deputies seize people’s driver’s licenses and cars without a legal basis using basically the same ideological reasoning—I’m the police and anything and everything I do is legal until I’m told its illegal.
As you can see, I believe in tilting at windmills by writing this essay. How can a single individual accomplish anything. I am reminded of statement attributed to Martin Neimoeller, a German Lutheran pastor about the Nazis: First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
So give me my lance, Sancho. I see giants.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.