You’re Either With Us Or Against Us

When I began working on the opera, I had a section called “Rhetoric”. After finishing the first couple of fragments, I realized the entire opera would be told in slogans, chants, incantations and prayers, so a separate section for rhetoric alone was redundant.

Because I’m writing the opera in triplicate (Athens, Baltimore, Oakland), I tried to diversify which part, or rather location, I would use as the template for each section. What remained of the “Rhetoric” section became the section titled “The People Speak for the People” which contrasts “The State Speaks for the State”. These sections are contrary companions; opposing each other more philosophically than technically.

The Oakland text was definitely the easiest to write text in this section. So much of Occupy Oakland it was documented, preserved, and easily accessible. I was also physically present, so I had my own personal notes from first-hand experience to work with.

The text from the Athens (and Marathon), section is gleaned from the poetry of Anacreon and The Republic of Plato. When I started writing the opera, many years ago now, the only story I intended to tell was the writing of the poem, The Star-Spangled Banner. Then the idea grew to include the history of the tune that we sing the poem to: Anacreon in Heaven.

The poet Anacreon has a moderately interesting back story. He was upper middle class, and ended up fighting in the Greco-Persian war after fleeing his home town during the Ionian Revolt. He mostly wrote about Bacchanalian fare.

Anacreon’s surviving poetry is sparse. Though it is, at moments, quite lovely:

What metalworker created the sea? What inspired art poured waves on a salver? Who with his mind soaring heaven-high took the first step towards immortality by carving on the sea’s back soft white Cypris? He showed her naked, covering with the waves only what ought not be seen. Roaming over the waves like sea-lettuce, moving her soft-skinned body in her voyage over the white calm sea, she pulls the breakers along her path. Above her rosy breasts and below her soft neck a great wave divides her skin. In the midst of the furrow, like a lily wound among violets, Cypris shines out from the calm sea. Over the silver on dancing dolphins ride guileful Love and laughing Desire, and the chorus of bow-backed fish plunging in the waves sports with the Paphian where she swims laughing.

The text that remained unwritten was Baltimore; more specifically, the voice of the people who were in opposition to the War of 1812. I plan for the Baltimore section of “The State Speaks for the State” to be taken from actual Congressional speeches by avowed War Hawks. What proved to be much more difficult to find would be ample dialogue by those decision makers who were sardonically referred to as “Peace Doves”.

I was surprised to learn one of the first Peace Societies in the United States sprung from the opposition to the War of 1812. The group was formed by preacher David Low Dodge, a names which sounds like a first draft of clever pseudonyms, but is apparently this his actual name. Lucky for me, he was also easy to troll and rather long-winded, so he provided much of the text I needed.

While looking for War Hawk text, I found this excerpt on the War of 1812 Wikipedia page:

Many members of the Democratic-Republican Party viewed opposition as treasonous or near-treasonous once war was declared. The Washington National Intelligencer wrote that, “WAR IS DECLARED, and every patriot heart must unite in its support… or die without due cause.” The Augusta Chronicle wrote that, “he who is not for us is against us.”[3]

I’d never considered the history of this phrase. It does have its own Wikipedia page, and it’s fascinating – see for yourself. It’s referenced in David Low Dodge’s pamphlet War Is Inhuman and book War Is Inconsistent with the Religion of Jesus Christ. I particularly enjoyed the Biblical references; they were unexpected, and a nice pairing with Dodge’s pacifist slant.

The Book of Revelations does not disappoint when it comes to the florid language of doom:

Revelation 3:1
To the angel of the church in Sardis wrote: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

Revelation 3:16
So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

 You must pick a side. You are either with us, or against us.

This phrase is a device, and this device is infinite.