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Cold Storage

By       Message Gayle Brandeis     Permalink
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A few months ago, Patrick Rogalin, a 20 year old Army Reserve specialist, came home from Iraq to find all of the belongings he had put into a self storage locker had been auctioned off. All his clothing, all his furniture, all mementos of his life before Iraq, gone to the highest bidder.

My novel Self Storage recently came out, so I've been thinking so much about what "self storage" means. How our selves can be so wrapped up in our things. How we often store ourselves away from the world, lock parts of ourselves up. I can't help but see a different metaphor here, though. Our soldiers are coming home to very little to begin with--reduced benefits, meager military pay that often has to be supplemented with food stamps. These young men and women put their lives on the line, and we thank them by denying them treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, by increasing their co-pays for prescriptions, by giving them substandard care in shoddy hospitals. Aside from reuniting with family and friends, they might as well be coming back to empty storage lockers.

I can't blame George Bush for one soldier losing his belongings. I can blame him, however, for putting our soldiers in harm's way for no good reason. I can blame him for not taking care of them when they get home. And I can blame him for packing our national ideals, our national sense of self, into storage in the process. Cold storage.

After the 9/11 attacks, America was put on ice. We all know the story—our administration took our fear and ran with it. Dissent was deemed treason. Our Constitution suddenly seemed way less water tight. And the media fell right in step with all of it. Our lawmakers did, too. The lone voices speaking for peace within Washington were belittled, if not downright attacked. The hundreds of thousands of us who took to the streets around the world to try to prevent war, and then stop it, were called a focus group, a fringe element.

The November elections thankfully marked a real change. That cold storage door has been opened--our national ideals are thawing out again, tingling back to life. Lawmakers, even within the Republican party, are speaking out against the president. Reporters, after years of acquiescence, are finally asking tough questions.

When Patrick Rogalin's story hit the news in mid-January, people rose up to ask how they could replace his lost belongings. And now more and more people are rising up to ask how we can end the war, how we can bring our troops home—just look at the January 27th march on Washington; hundreds of thousands of people mobilizing for peace. Our national identity has been packed away for way too long, and Bush's dwindling political capital can no longer afford the rent. It's up to us to ask our elected officials to stop funding this war. It's time to put Impeachment on the table. It's time to take the American self out of storage, to reclaim our freedoms, our voices, our fierce but open heart.

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Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, Dictionary Poems, and two novels: The Book of Dead Birds, which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, (more...)
 

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