On Thanksgiving Day 2001, with the United States in the midst of what polls identify as one of the most popular wars in history and with President Bush’s approval ratings hovering around 90 percent, more than 20 million American households opened their daily newspapers to see a little black kid named Huey Freeman leading the pre-turkey prayer.
“Ahem,” began the unsmiling youth. “In this time of war against Osama bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime, we are thankful that OUR leader isn’t the spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists, operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for the democratic electoral process, bombs innocents, and uses war to deny people their civil liberties. Amen.”
In the whole of American media that day, Huey’s was certainly the most pointed and, no doubt, the most effective dissent from the patriotism that dare not speak its mind. And it was not the only day when the self-proclaimed “radical scholar” skewered George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Defense Department, dithering Democrats, frenzied flag-wavers and scaremongering television anchors in what since September 11 has been the most biting and consistent critique of the war and its discontents in the nation’s mass media.
The creation of 27-year-old cartoonist Aaron McGruder, Huey Freeman appears daily in The Boondocks, a comic strip featured in 250 of America’s largest newspapers, including the Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. “There are a lot of newspapers where Aaron’s comic strip probably is the only consistent voice of dissent,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Joel Pett, whose editorial-page cartoons for the Lexington, Kentucky, Herald-Leader have raised tough questions about the suffering of Afghan civilians and the role the United States has played in spreading terror. “I think that not only is he doing good stuff, the fact that he is on those comics pages makes it important in a way that none of the rest of us could accomplish. He’s hooking a whole group of people. He’s getting ideas out to people who don’t always read the opinion pages. And he’s influencing a lot of young people about how it’s OK to question their government and the media. When you think about it, what he has done since September 11 has just been incredible.”
In recent weeks, McGruder’s Huey has grumbled about how it may no longer be legal in John Ashcroft’s America to ask whether George W. Bush was actually elected; hiked atop a mountain to yell, “For goodness sake people, it’s a recession! Save money this Christmas!”; and repeatedly expressed the view that “Dick Cheney is just plain creepy.” And he has listened in disbelief to an “announcement” from the Attorney General that went: “I would like to reassure Congress that my proposed Turban Surveillance Act, which would allow the FBI to covertly plant listening devices in the headgear of suspected terrorists, is in no way meant to single out Arab or Muslim Americans.”