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Conversations with America

Conversations with America: Concluding the Conversation

Lindsey O'Connor

Brian Turner

Treasure Williams

David Schulman

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Turner, O'Connor and Williams
(Courtesy Brian Turner/Lindsey O'Connor/Treasure Williams)
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So our long election "cycle" ended last week with the inauguration of President Obama. But in some ways, we're still in the cycle, remembering all the campaign buzzwords - change, transparency, bipartisanship - and comparing the promise of those words with reality as it unfolds. Since last September, Weekend America has been asking writers and thinkers for their take on what matters to them and what should matter to all of us during this time of political change. We called the series Conversations with America. Now that we have a new president, we thought we'd get some of the contributors back together to continue the conversation. Lindsey O'Connor is a writer based in Colorado; Brian Turner is a poet and Iraq war veteran in Fresno; and Treasure Willams is a poet and educator in Memphis.

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Lindsey O'Connor: My point in my original essay was that voting can be an act of faith. And so, of course the specifics have changed. Now that we have a new administration, and even for those who did not vote for Obama, I think it is really important to strive to continue to do that. Whether you are nervous, because some of the policy decisions that are happening are, frankly, making a lot of evangelical Christians very concerned. Or if you're just filled with hope, I think it's important that all of us try and make choices where what we say we believe is integrated into our life.

Brian Turner: I was in the US Army as an infantry team leader in Iraq for a year, and I am currently a poet. I think the way is definitely forward - and I am very hopeful. But at the same time, part of the process of moving forward is to be responsible and accountable for what we have done. We did a raid near Balad, which is north of Baghdad, and we had some gentlemen - we busted into their house, we dragged them out into this animal stall, flex-cuffed them, with plastic handcuffs, blindfolded them, held them out there for hours while we were trying to figure out if these were the people we were supposed to get. And eventually, it came down that these weren't the right people. We apologized, took the stuff off of them, and let them go back in their house.

And I later tried to think, "What would it be like if I were one of them?"

There are other instances like that from my own personal experience when I was in Iraq - where torture as one issue, for example, needs to be prosecuted. And I think there needs to be a gradation of scale, depending on how much power you had. Maybe there need to be trials in The Hague.

Treasure Williams: My name is Treasure Williams, and I live in Memphis, but I work in Holly Springs, Miss., where I am an instructor of English at Rust College. And when you think that there are American personnel that should be tried at The Hague, the first thing I think is, "You're going to get in a file for that, Brian. You're going to be watched for that!"

The second thing I think is--my husband is big sci-fi fantasy guy--and one of the tropes, one of the reoccurring ideas that I love about sci-fi is this idea that, in the future, all the worlds will participate in taking care of the universe. And that you will see the beings from E.T., and the beings from Beta 7, all standing, passing legislation to take care of the universe.

Now, when I think of the UN, that's what I always hope is going to happen. I hope I'm going to turn on C-SPAN, and I'm going to see someone in a Bantu outfit, and an American with a cowboy hat, and we're all going to work together and share power. But I would love to see us live out our faith, Lindsey, by authentically sharing power, and treating other cultures as if they are humans on this planet.

Brian Turner: This is getting on a different subject, but I was just wondering, considering the results of the election, has it affected your writing at all? Treasure, I know you write poetry - has it affected the way you approach the page now?

Treasure Williams: I don't think it's affected the way I approach the page. I had a family member ask me to write a poem about Barack Obama, and he said, "I'm sure you're just fairly gushing with ideas." And I have been resistant - I think I'm just gestating that, I'm just letting that kind of marinate.

Lindsey O'Connor: Has it for you, Brian? Has it changed your writing?

Brian Turner: I don't know. It's easy for me to ask the question to you two, but for myself it's a difficult question as well.

Lindsey O'Connor: Yeah, back atcha! I wouldn't say it's changed my writing, so much as it's - I loved your word, Treasure, "marinate." That's so great! Stew in our own thoughts, and let it sink in deep.

Treasure Williams: Right.

Lindsey O'Connor: But in my writing, I'm finally writing about an experience I had where I was in a coma, and faced end-of-life issues. And had to grapple with what I really believed about all that. So I'm writing about that in a deeper way, maybe, than before. Brian, I have a question.

Brian Turner: Yes?

Lindsey O'Connor: You wrote in your piece about watching that man - the Iraqi - go through the checkpoint, and then having his friend's blood on his hands. And he came to you for help, and you had to turn him away. How did you feel right in that moment when you looked at that man, and then he drove off?

Brian Turner: I just - I felt ashamed. I felt really, deeply ashamed. And I couldn't really - there was nothing more I could do at that moment.

Lindsey O'Connor: Has it haunted you?

Brian Turner: Well, it does. The hard part is, it's not just me that was standing at the gate, refusing that person help.

Lindsey O'Connor: It was your country.

Brian Turner: I had the American flag on my shoulder.

Treasurer Williams: Mmm.

Brian Turner: We refused that person help. And we have responsibility to these people. If people back here don't feel a responsibility to it, to me it seems like a fundamental, psychic disconnect. And there is a real problem with that.

Lindsey O'Connor: Can I share a story of what you just said, how that touches me personally, and something that you said in your essay?

Brian Turner: Yeah.

Lindsey O'Connor: You said we have a responsibility to help the millions of Iraqis fleeing the war as refugees. And after I did my essay, I left and went to Thailand for the first time in my life. And I went to Burma. I had never been in a refugee camp. So it's not just this issue you raised of Iraqi refugees, but that there is a broader world out there then so many of us in our small communities, in our small daily lives, sometimes give notice to. And you also talk about, just because we're not talking about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq doesn't mean that it goes away. And I saw that in this refugee camp. The issue of what's happening to some Burmese refugees that are fleeing their country because of oppression, and pouring into Thailand into these refugee camps, hoping someday to go back to Burma.

My eyes were opened in a way that they never had been before - on a couple of things. We have such incredible freedom: freedom of our government, freedom to worship, freedom to have enough food to eat on a daily basis. And I looked at these people - 7000 people stacked together, like one man told me, "like animals in a zoo." And that takes me back to faith. Because I think the greatest thing that we should be known by is, How do we love? You know? What is our compassion like?

  • Music Bridge:
    Mima
    Artist: Helios
    CD: Caesura (Type)
More stories from our Conversations with America series

Comments

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  • By Alex Veloudos

    From Dunedin, FL, 10/06/2011

    I really would like to get in touch with Lindsey and Tim O'Connor- On Sept. th 2011
    my wife and I went into deliver our 4th child(induction) and my wife Penelope got AFE- she went into Pulamary Arrest and lost Oxygen for ten minutes by the time they could resesitate her, then proceeded to do an Emergency c section and saw that my wife was bleeding and clotting. My wife lost over 3000ml of blood and had over 12 units of blood transfusions. She is currently in coma now for 30 days but now off ventilator- has brain injury to top left and right of brain. She has what DR call "brain stem reflexes" with eyes open on occasion and some griminsings- (frowning). I have 3 teenagers (17,15,13) and would love to speak with Tim. We a great support group from our church- we are Greek Orthodox and have the relics of our Patron Saints Raphael Nicholas and Irene. Please let me know if I can get a hold of the O'Connor family so They share some of the same experiences that they faced. thank you.
    Alex

    By Cody Weinmann

    From Colton, CA, 09/02/2011

    I have a new poetry anthology out entitled America vs. America about the prosperous America versus the current America with all of its social, political, and economic hardships. With this book, I wanted to teach people about self-sufficiency in this time of worry in America. Is there any way I could promote my book here?
    Cody Weinmann, author of America vs. America

    By Rob Miller

    05/20/2011

    I liked your site.

    By brian turner

    From fresno, CA, 02/04/2009

    Thanks for the comment, Tom. I'd be interested in hearing more of your ideas on how to approach this and the efforts that you've been involved in toward this end. Please feel free to contact me through my publisher.

    On a separate note--it's been an honor to be a small part of Weekend America. My hope is that it will one day return.

    Brian

    By Tom Sandor

    From San Pedro, CA, 02/03/2009

    re. Brian turner's comments on Iraq:
    the same sort of thing was happening with us in Viet Nam 40 years ago. Given our history it may happen again in Whereever-istan. Must we make the same mistake over and over again? I don't think so, not if we work togeather and insist that the American public be educated as to the mistakes we've made in the past, and somehow, make a public accounting of those who had a hand in directing those mistakes. I have been working with a few veteran's groups to this end, please use your skills to futher this effort.

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