postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: On Constitutions

This week has been extremely quite in my neighborhood of Dhobighat, with all the Bandhs and whatnot, but even without them, I always wake up to the sound of birds chirping and distant dogs barking – as well as to my own Shepard telling me it’s time to go for a walk.

Dhobighat seems thousands of miles away from downtown, where from what I gather folks are haggling over a new constitution: what it should contain, when it should be written, and who should control the process. As an expat, I feel very much an outsider on all that’s happening in the politics of Nepal this week...

But the thought of a constitution dredges up childhood memories for me - going all the way back to Governor Clinton Elementary School of Poughkeepsie NY. It was a small elementary school, very much a public school, which sat across the street from the Christ Church Cemetery that had been entombing folks as far back as the American Revolution.

We had to walk past the cemetery go get to class, and through it if we wanted to stop at the cold store first and load up on sweets. The ghosts there all whispered of a time gone, but of one where the country’s direction was certainly in question, and on everyone’s political mind.

Classes at Clinton Elementary were pretty much unmemorable, except for those in American History. It seemed that during my first 6 years or so of education, that’s all we studied, and I can still smell my old wood desk, with the unused hole for the inkwell, reminding us all we came from Ben Franklin-like stock.

When I started school at Clinton Elementary, there were 35-framed portraits of American presidents in my classroom, with the last one being John F. Kennedy. By the time I left, another had been added. JFK had been shot during my first year of school, and one of my first school memories was being sent home early that day, with the entire town hushed except for the network coverage of the assignation playing on everyone’s television set. Even the revolutionary ghosts of Christ Church Cemetery seemed to be crying a low mourning as well.

Perhaps it was this very event, another outright assignation of a sitting US President, that inspired my liberal democratic elementary school teachers to focus on the US Constitution, which was required reading (in one form or another) for grades 1-6. We each received copies on fake parchment paper. We were led through any historical marker with a placard reading “George Washington Slept Here.” We spent most all of our field trips at the Valley Forge Museum, either studying revolutionary war relics or watching reenactments of Continental Army battles with the British.

In other words, we were schooled in how America began as a rabble, and later turned into a world power.

We memorized presidents and dates. We studied each of the signers of the constitution; all 40 of them, and even went to visit the gravesites of many who were buried nearby. In short, we were led to believe that the constitution of our country was the most important document, and held the most important rules and considerations for running civil society. In addition, the folks who participated in the conditional process were the heroes of the age.

It was only in college, after hearing Howard Zinn speak on his then new book, “A People’s History of the United States,” that I came to realize the total white-washing that we had been given growing up in the ‘60s. Zinn convinced me that the founding fathers of the American Constitution were not saints, but instead, calculating businessman who used war to distract the populace from domestic issues - like the economy and jobs.

Zinn broke my idealist bubble regarding America, and I have never been able to look at the framers of the US constitution again without contempt. In fact, Zinn and his research and writings was pretty much the seed that soured my liking for any form of government at all, except for more “primitive” forms of direct democracy, as found working today in most villages of Nepal (for example).

Zinn wrote that

"Governments - including the government of the United States - are not neutral... they represent the dominant economic interests, and their constitutions are intended to serve these interests.”

Zinn died last year while swimming in a Californian hotel pool, but one of the things he said he wanted to be remembered for was this thought, which I feel is applicable to all Nepalese today. Zinn wanted people to realize that
“...power rests so far in the hands of people with wealth and guns, but power ultimately rests in people themselves, and that they can use it. At certain points in history, they have used it...”

For Nepal, now is one of those points in time that Zinn refers to.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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