From a small house atop a snow-capped mountain in Norway, my eyes were torn from the picturesque view of the city below, by the flash of unsettling television images in the room. As the television coverage was in Norwegian, and I have only a limited grasp of the language at best, I struggled to understand what the crowds of protestors shown in cities throughout Europe were demonstrating against. War? Terror attacks? Labor Strikes? Taxes? No, sadly, it was the coverage of U.S. President Bush spreading his message of peace and unity throughout Europe this week.
I wondered first, would the stark contrast between the outdoor images and the television images before me, be echoed in the contrast between the U.S. television coverage and the European television coverage of events? Would the U.S. continue to see only endless shots of the President smiling and waving and shaking hands, and spouting colorful rhetoric about a tomorrow filled with peace and freedom? Or would they, finally, come face to face with both sets of images.
I wondered next, would we as viewers around the world, when faced with these images, understand why such an outcry was being made against the efforts of President Bush? A discussion of this topic with new acquaintances from Denmark and Norway led to some surprising discoveries about the limits on freedoms and rights for one unlucky member of our discussion group. That unlucky member was me, a citizen of the U.S.
My Norwegian and Danish counterparts listened in shock and disbelief, as I told of the reality behind the pictures of large homes, SUV’s, and designer clothes. I told of the numerous states in the U.S. where you could be fired for any reason at any time from your employer, with no legal or monetary relief available. A land where you would pay ever-rising premiums for routine health-care and benefits, only to have them lost immediately should your employment be terminated. A land where same-sex oriented individuals could legally be discriminated against for jobs, homes, parental and guardian rights, and where the President was working tirelessly to permanently outlaw marital rights for same-sex couples. Even a land where the projections of a bankrupt social security system within 8 years were not enough to halt the spending of billions of (borrowed) dollars funding a war waged on false pretenses. The Danish and Norwegians citizens, on the other hand, had been enjoying equality in healthcare, job placement and security, and marital and parental rights for all citizens (and just a short note here that all citizens does actually mean all citizens, which includes same-sex oriented individuals by the way), all while maintaining a budget surplus, for nearly 20 years now.
So for those of us who have been fortunate enough to view the story from both sides(or misfortunate enough to live it), the message is clear. In a country with all the tools and riches available to be the fore-runner of freedom and rights, it is a travesty unlike any other to spend the labor and money of discriminated citizens on misdirected military attacks, and crusades to create even more laws of discrimination. And when the leader of that country also happens to control the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons on the planet, and demands to be treated with the same respect as the leaders of countries who have actually solved the important issues of civil rights and balanced budgets… in the words of the President himself; “not on my watch.”