Vulnerable in the system | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Mar 30, 2018

Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” (1953) after learning that his friend, Elia Kazan, named names of supposed communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Miller did not denounce Kazan for bending to the great pressure and said, “You are not guilty of the crime you are charged with, but you are charged, so you feel guilty.”

Through “The Crucible,” he demonstrated how good people could behave contrary to their values or lose perspective when functioning within systems implemented by humans with all of our fallibilities.

The House committee was established in 1938 to investigate potentially “disloyal” Americans, and strengthened with a more targeted focus in the 1940s as the Cold War began.

In the 1950s, media-savvy Sen. Joseph McCarthy (who was not actually on the Committee since he was in the Senate) realized that he could whip up anti-communist frenzy by targeting Hollywood.

By manipulating and intimidating people, the system itself became almost a weapon in an endeavor that no longer seemed to be pursuing its originally stated goal. Or, more simply, a witch-hunt.

Due process is required by the Bill of Rights to our Constitution.

The “process” part of that phrase implies the system works within fair and consistent conditions for everyone – the need to prove guilt under a presumption of innocence, adequate legal representation, and a basic understanding of rights.

Recently, the Edmonds Diversity Commission screened a documentary called “Mi Vida Dentro,” the story of a Mexican immigrant found guilty of a terrible crime after many sidesteps of that due process.

Our legal system and its tenets as written are nearly flawless, but in practice, certain people can be vulnerable within it.

Lacking access to resources like money, a good lawyer and knowledge of the system itself, a person may be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

And in these times of 24-hour sensationalized news, the ability to engage the media and influence through social media are even more powerful assets than during the Cold War.

Just this past weekend, as students across the United States traveled near and far to participate in the “March for Our Lives,” two of the recently famous survivors of the Parkland school shooting met with two student activists from Washington, D.C.

In their discussions, the chasm between the small town in Florida and the nation’s capital became very clear to the four of them.

Student David Hogg said, “From what I learned here today, what's been proven to me even more so is I hope that every community is heard equally and that ours isn't heard more just because of … our privilege. We all have the same suffering that we've lived through.”

After “The Crucible” opened, Miller was subpoenaed and found guilty of contempt for refusing to cooperate with the Committee, but his sentence was suspended and the verdict later overturned.

After several decades, Miller revealed that he had been offered a deal to have the charges dropped if his wife, Marilyn Monroe, took a photo with the Committee chairman, and she had been unsuccessfully threatened by studio executives to get her husband to cooperate.

The wealth and fame that brought them into the witch-hunt eventually protected them from a system that had taken down many others more vulnerable to it.


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