Thanksgiving… it’s just around the corner and it has gotten me thinking about gratitude and all that I am blessed with. In conjunction with the approaching holiday and the flick I attended this weekend, I am all a-twitter with thoughts.

I didn’t even know the movie existed until I was at the theater looking at the marquee. I had a faint inkling about the controversy behind the documentary entitled “Shut Up and Sing” but I couldn’t imagine how there could be enough material for a movie. Curious, I purchased a ticket and entered the theater, ready for anything. For those who may have been as oblivious as me, or if, like me, you aren’t the biggest fan of country music, I will fill you in on the details.

All the hubbabaloo began in March, 2003, on the eve of President Bush’s decision to send troops to war in Iraq. Between songs at a concert in London, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, voiced honest emotions, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Not so treasonous, I believe, but for some reason a mob-like mentality swept through our nation, sparked by anger over her words.

Somehow, somewhere, it was twisted into the Dixie Chicks not supporting our troops, even though the number one country song at that time was their song, “Traveling Soldier,” which is a heart-rending, empathetic ballad about soldiers and their families. Some of their once-fans called for The Dixie Chicks to be tried for treason. They were called traitors, banned from cities, banned from radio stations, their albums were burned, their names became synonymous with evil and, eventually, they received very specific death threats.

Image courtesy of and linked to originating site

Image courtesy of and linked to originating site

I was appalled and shuddered as I watched them being beleaguered by the very public that had once been their biggest fans. The behavior of the crowds caught on tape outside their concerts was maddening – much akin to the oxymoronic chaos that results in protestors bombing abortion clinics and killing the doctors inside. One “fan” actually had the balls to say, “We are the United States of America! We believe in the freedom of speech, but not when you are in another country and not when you are slamming the President.”

My jaw actually dropped. Our rights are conditional???

I quote from the Bill of Rights, “Amendment No. 1: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our nation was founded upon freedom from repression and established as a democracy for everyoneevery religion, every race, every gender. There are no exceptions to any of the freedoms outlined in our founding documents. And it was done that way for a reason. It was done so that we could be the Land of the Free with leaders elected by the people for the people. If our leaders are not operating congruently with the majority of the nation, isn’t it our American right – more importantly, duty – to speak out?

Granted, I know it could be said that the angry, hateful people who were smattering the Dixie Chicks names with garbage were only practicing their Freedom of Speech. Yes. I get that. But when does the bickering stop? When will we begin respecting one another’s rights to those freedoms? When will we stand of differing opinions, but united nonetheless?

Freedom of Speech. It is a freedom I think about often since I express my inner thoughts and feelings quite freely and, sometimes, step into controversial zones, especially here in the Land of Zion. I am wondering, what are we teaching our children if we condemn those who do practice their Freedom of Speech? What are we saying about our Nation as a whole? If people see others strung up for speaking out against our leaders, it will promote and instill fear. People will grow silent in a time when we actually need to be speaking out the most. Our children will learn that to exercise their freedoms results in punishment.

The terror running through our nation has nothing to do with the terrorists threats or their actions. It has to do with the fact that our God-given rights are insidiously being stripped away from us. Our Nation is quietly forgetting that these rights are the very things that our soldiers have fought for through the ages. And when our citizens give over to the frenzy, publicly lynching those who are brave enough to speak out, it adds to the chaos. It tears at the moral fabric of our Nation and frays an already ragged cloth.

We are One Nation Under God – even if you believe in no God at all, we are still One. What happened to the Dixie Chicks happened to me. It happened to you. It happened to our children. It happened to each and every one of us.

In honor of all those who have gone before me, and in gratitude for their sacrifices, I am standing up for our freedoms. I am using my voice. I am exercising my Right to Speak. Countless men and women have died for me so that I may be free. I am Free to Speak. I am Free to Worship. I am Free to Write. I am Free to Gather. And I choose to honor and stand with those who do so also.

Even if they believe differently than me.

©Angie K. Millgate 11/20/06

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