chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is
being sent through the White House and its allies in
talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. If you
oppose this administration, there can and will be
ramifications. Every day, the air waves are filled
with warnings, veiled and unveiled threats, spewed
invective and hatred directed at any voice of dissent."
'A Chill Wind is
Blowing in This Nation...'
Posted March 17, 2003
Transcript of the
speech given by actor to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.,
on April 15, 2003.
TIM ROBBINS: Thank
you. And thanks for the invitation. I had originally been asked here to talk
about the war and our current political situation, but I have instead chosen
to hijack this opportunity and talk about baseball and show business.
(Laughter.) Just kidding. Sort of.
I can't tell you how
moved I have been at the overwhelming support I have received from
newspapers throughout the country in these past few days. I hold no
illusions that all of these journalists agree with me on my views against
the war. While the journalists' outrage at the cancellation of our
appearance in Cooperstown is not about my views, it is about my right to
express these views. I am extremely grateful that there are those of you out
there still with a fierce belief in constitutionally guaranteed rights. We
need you, the press, now more than ever. This is a crucial moment for all of
For all of the
ugliness and tragedy of 9-11, there was a brief period afterward where I
held a great hope, in the midst of the tears and shocked faces of New
Yorkers, in the midst of the lethal air we breathed as we worked at Ground
Zero, in the midst of my children's terror at being so close to this crime
against humanity, in the midst of all this, I held on to a glimmer of hope
in the naive assumption that something good could come out of it.
I imagined our leaders
seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted
to talk about Democrat versus Republican, white versus black, or any of the
other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public discourse. I imagined
our leaders going on television telling the citizens that although we all
want to be at Ground Zero, we can't, but there is work that is needed to be
done all over America. Our help is needed at community centers to tutor
children, to teach them to read. Our work is needed at old-age homes to
visit the lonely and infirmed; in gutted neighborhoods to rebuild housing
and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots to baseball fields. I
imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity
of spirit and create a new unity in America born out of the chaos and
tragedy of 9/11, a new unity that would send a message to terrorists
everywhere: If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better
educated, and more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice
and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of the
fire, we will be reborn.
And then came the
speech: You are either with us or against us. And the bombing began. And the
old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism
by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their
neighbor for any suspicious behavior.
In the 19 months since
9-11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic
inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly
compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown
bitterly divided, and a world population that had profound sympathy and
support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once
viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state.
This past weekend,
Susan and I and the three kids went to Florida for a family reunion of
sorts. Amidst the alcohol and the dancing, sugar-rushing children, there
was, of course, talk of the war. And the most frightening thing about the
weekend was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the
war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own
community, in their own life. Keep talking, they said; I haven't been able
to open my mouth.
A relative tells me
that a history teacher tells his 11-year-old son, my nephew, that Susan
Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition to the war. Another
teacher in a different school asks our niece if we are coming to the school
play. They're not welcome here, said the molder of young minds.
Another relative tells
me of a school board decision to cancel a civics event that was proposing to
have a moment of silence for those who have died in the war because the
students were including dead Iraqi civilians in their silent prayer.
A teacher in another
nephew's school is fired for wearing a T- shirt with a peace sign on it. And
a friend of the family tells of listening to the radio down South as the
talk radio host calls for the murder of a prominent anti-war activist. Death
threats have appeared on other prominent anti-war activists' doorsteps for
their views. Relatives of ours have received threatening e-mails and phone
calls. And my 13-year-old boy, who has done nothing to anybody, has recently
been embarrassed and humiliated by a sadistic creep who writes -- or,
rather, scratches his column with his fingernails in dirt.
Susan and I have been
listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets by
the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers, and by their fair and
balanced electronic media cousins, 19th Century Fox. (Laughter.) Apologies
to Gore Vidal. (Applause.)
Two weeks ago, the
United Way canceled Susan's appearance at a conference on women's
leadership. And both of us last week were told that both we and the First
Amendment were not welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A famous middle-aged
rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the
war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he
fears repercussions from Clear Channel. "They promote our concert
appearances," he said. "They own most of the stations that play
our music. I can't come out against this war."
And here in
Washington, Helen Thomas finds herself banished to the back of the room and
uncalled on after asking Ari Fleischer whether our showing prisoners of war
at Guantanamo Bay on television violated the Geneva Convention.
A chill wind is
blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and
its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. If you oppose
this administration, there can and will be ramifications.
Every day, the air
waves are filled with warnings, veiled and unveiled threats, spewed
invective and hatred directed at any voice of dissent. And the public, like
so many relatives and friends that I saw this weekend, sit in mute
opposition and fear.
I am sick of hearing
about Hollywood being against this war. Hollywood's heavy hitters, the real
power brokers and cover-of-the- magazine stars, have been largely silent on
this issue. But Hollywood, the concept, has always been a popular target.
I remember when the
Columbine High School shootings happened. President Clinton criticized
Hollywood for contributing to this terrible tragedy -- this, as we were
dropping bombs over Kosovo. Could the violent actions of our leaders
contribute somewhat to the violent fantasies of our teenagers? Or is it all
just Hollywood and rock and roll?
I remember reading at
the time that one of the shooters had tried to enlist to fight the real war
a week before he acted out his war in real life at Columbine. I talked about
this in the press at the time. And curiously, no one accused me of being
unpatriotic for criticizing Clinton. In fact, the same radio patriots that
call us traitors today engaged in daily personal attacks on their president
during the war in Kosovo.
politicians who have decried violence in movies -- the "Blame
Hollywooders," if you will -- recently voted to give our current
president the power to unleash real violence in our current war. They want
us to stop the fictional violence but are okay with the real kind.
And these same people
that tolerate the real violence of war don't want to see the result of it on
the nightly news. Unlike the rest of the world, our news coverage of this
war remains sanitized, without a glimpse of the blood and gore inflicted
upon our soldiers or the women and children in Iraq. Violence as a concept,
an abstraction -- it's very strange.
As we applaud the
hard-edged realism of the opening battle scene of "Saving Private
Ryan," we cringe at the thought of seeing the same on the nightly news.
We are told it would be pornographic. We want no part of reality in real
life. We demand that war be painstakingly realized on the screen, but that
war remain imagined and conceptualized in real life.
And in the midst of
all this madness, where is the political opposition? Where have all the
Democrats gone? Long time passing, long time ago. (Applause.) With apologies
to Robert Byrd, I have to say it is pretty embarrassing to live in a country
where a five-foot- one comedian has more guts than most politicians.
(Applause.) We need leaders, not pragmatists that cower before the spin
zones of former entertainment journalists. We need leaders who can
understand the Constitution, congressman who don't in a moment of fear
abdicate their most important power, the right to declare war to the
executive branch. And, please, can we please stop the congressional sing-a-
In this time when a
citizenry applauds the liberation of a country as it lives in fear of its
own freedom, when an administration official releases an attack ad
questioning the patriotism of a legless Vietnam veteran running for
Congress, when people all over the country fear reprisal if they use their
right to free speech, it is time to get angry. It is time to get fierce. And
it doesn't take much to shift the tide. My 11-year-old nephew, mentioned
earlier, a shy kid who never talks in class, stood up to his history teacher
who was questioning Susan's patriotism. "That's my aunt you're talking
about. Stop it." And the stunned teacher backtracks and began
stammering compliments in embarrassment.
the country reacted with such overwhelming fury at the Hall of Fame that the
president of the Hall admitted he made a mistake and Major League Baseball
disavowed any connection to the actions of the Hall's president. A bully can
be stopped, and so can a mob. It takes one person with the courage and a
The journalists in
this country can battle back at those who would rewrite our Constitution in
Patriot Act II, or "Patriot, The Sequel," as we would call it in
Hollywood. We are counting on you to star in that movie. Journalists can
insist that they not be used as publicists by this administration.
(Applause.) The next White House correspondent to be called on by Ari
Fleischer should defer their question to the back of the room, to the
banished journalist du jour. (Applause.) And any instance of intimidation to
free speech should be battled against. Any acquiescence or intimidation at
this point will only lead to more intimidation. You have, whether you like
it or not, an awesome responsibility and an awesome power: the fate of
discourse, the health of this republic is in your hands, whether you write
on the left or the right. This is your time, and the destiny you have
We lay the continuance
of our democracy on your desks, and count on your pens to be mightier.
Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope - hoping for
someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and to defy the
intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security
and warped notions of patriotism.
Our ability to
disagree, and our inherent right to question our leaders and criticize their
actions define who we are. To allow those rights to be taken away out of
fear, to punish people for their beliefs, to limit access in the news media
to differing opinions is to acknowledge our democracy's defeat. These are
challenging times. There is a wave of hate that seeks to divide us -- right
and left, pro-war and anti-war. In the name of my 11-year-old nephew, and
all the other unreported victims of this hostile and unproductive
environment of fear, let us try to find our common ground as a nation. Let
us celebrate this grand and glorious experiment that has survived for 227
years. To do so we must honor and fight vigilantly for the things that unite
us -- like freedom, the First Amendment and, yes, baseball. (Applause.)