Sometimes you really only grasp the meaning of a situation—in a human, emotional sense—when you hear a story in person, when you watch the body and face of the subject of the story, when you feel its impact on the body rather than in the abstract.
Thus was the case for me last week when I attended a talk to Valerie Plame Wilson, author of Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. There’s little need here to introduce the author—she’s the former CIA agent famously outed by Scooter Libby and the White House in retaliation for her husband, Joe’s, editorial in which he accused the White House of lying in their rhetorical case for the Iraq War. In Wilson's talk, drawing from the book, she tells the story of her love of country, her life in the CIA, the public outing, and her family's life in New Mexico.
As a result of being provided with “dignitary” seating in the front row (this simply because I know someone who knows a student in the organizing committee for the speech), I had a very close up view of Wilson as she told her story. To be honest, while I’ve always felt for her in the past, and while I’ve always been angry at the Bush White House for their part in outing her, it’s always been somewhat “theoretical” to me. That is, I knew that what was done to her was wrong, but I didn’t feel it: I wasn’t emotionally shaken by it. This is where the body comes in.
My Bonnie had decided not to attend the talk because, more so than many people, she already knew almost every angle on the story. I almost convinced myself not to go on similar grounds—if I already knew what she was going to say, wasn’t attending the talk just short of some version of political stargazing?
While watching Wilson discuss the fear she had for her family when “realistic” threats were made on them—and the betrayal she felt when the CIA refused to offer her protection after hearing for years those who joined were family forever—I got a new understanding of the issue. When I heard her repeatedly note that her personal loss of career meant our shared loss of national security contacts abroad—and watched her body and face express the sense of loss she felt—I understood this on different levels—personal and political.
Make no mistake, while top down power games have always angered me, and while I recognized the White House’s flexible and convenient senses of reality as dangerous and problematic, watching Plame Wilson and feeling these issues on a personal level—and having her simultaneously remind me of how these issues play out on a broader social level—meant something different. While it may not take the personal to create the same sense of outrage in all of us, I appreciate the work Wilson is doing in taking her story, and her lived experience, on the road.