is Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose
April 24, 2003
By Norma Sherry
There is a fear welling in the belly of our country. A fear
that we never thought – in our wildest imaginings – we'd actually
For those of us older than thirty, we remember being told,
"Never again" and "History has a way of repeating
itself". But of course, we never gave it much heed, chalked
it up to over-reactive elders; spinners of woe and fear.
Never did we imagine, even for a millisecond, that we could
actually see the demise of democracy here in the land of the
free, home of the brave - America. But there's a new threat
to our freedom; to the rights we thought were our birthright.
It is with horror and a heavy heart that I tell you that this
threat comes from within; from the very ones we thought were
our protectors; the very men and women held in esteem and
regard; learned men and women; men and women we, the American
public voted into office.
On October 26th, 2001 this esteemed body of men and women
signed a document that annihilated and abolished with a single
pen stroke all that we held dear; all that our forefathers
and our fathers and our father's fathers believed they had
bestowed upon us forever. That document was The Patriot Act,
now known as Patriot Act I. One, defining that there
was yet more to come. The document that now nearly every representative
said in their regret of signing it, that in their rush to
invoke it into law they hadn't read it. Wow! Is that even
Now we have learned Patriot Act II is waiting to be enacted.
Secretly it had been sequestered, hidden from all eyes, even
those eyes that again would be called upon to sign it. Luckily
a freedom-loving American exposed the document to The Center
for Public Integrity and now we have a small window; a tiny
speck of space with which to save our democracy.
It is in our hands brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers,
fellow citizens. We are the power. It is up to us to take
On that fateful day in October, within the 342 pages that
comprised US Patriot Act I, we lost our right to due process,
to client/attorney confidentiality, to privacy and protection
in our own homes, to surf freely on the worldwide Web, to
have telephone conversations without fear of being spied upon,
to choose our friends, even if they happen to be Arab or even
Trailing close behind is its successor, US Patriot Act II.
Soon it will add its 120 pages to our diminishing liberties.
Within this far-reaching document if any of us were suspected
of the possibility of being a terrorist, we could not only
find ourselves in a stockade somewhere, without the right
to legal representation, nor any loved ones being notified
of our detainment, but our records would be sealed. Access
denied. Freedom of information null and void. If we were so
unlucky as to be deemed unacceptable we would be stripped
of our citizenship and deported. Where is unknown, especially
if we were born and raised here in America, but that holds
little meaning anymore.
If my concern beguiles you because you think, "well
terrorists should be treated thusly", allow me to elucidate
further. The fear, dear reader, is the loosely-defined term
terrorist. The new defininition is so broad that even
a vandal could be deemed a terrorist, so too anyone exercising
their right of civil disobedience.
Under our new life in the United States and under the auspices
of Attorney General Ashcroft, our neighbors, our deliverymen,
the truck drivers, our plumbers and electricians, nearly anyone
that could deliver a service, or a nosey - albeit it nasty
- neighbor who perhaps hates you because your dog does his
business on their lawn, could place an anonymous phone call
to the FBI, or even the local police department… and voila,
you are now a suspected terrorist. That's it folks. That's
all it takes in this, the land of the free, home of the brave.
Under this expansive Act, there is the potential that our
DNA could be in a national data bank. To be precise, if one
is a suspected "terrorist", or belongs to a group
that is suspected of "terrorist activity", or is
in any way associated with a group, however loosely, that
is considered or suspected to be associated with "terrorism",
then that person's DNA would be in this data bank.
Again you say, "What's wrong with that?" As with
any law, you have to think outside of the box. It is not what
is being said, but what is being inferred and the extent with
which the law can be manipulated. Let's take a for instance.
Your daughter has joined a new group formed by her girlfriends
in school. Their mission is to help the elderly cross the
street and do all manner of good deeds. They will occasionally
sell cookies for prize trips. They will wear a brown uniform
and earn buttons and pins. However, somehow this little group
has come under scrutiny and has been deemed suspicious. Their
pow-wows seem ulterior in motive; the FBI has added them to
their list of "Groups of Suspicious Activity". No
longer is the standard probable cause. Guilty by association
is the new rule. Now their DNA is legally permitted to be
gathered and recorded. What this may mean later we can only
guess, but I suggest it is reminiscent of categorizing "undesirables",
as other countries have done not so very long ago.
Again, it is the definition that is at question. If any
of us were to join a group or parade with a collection of
like-minded individuals we risk being labeled un-American
or civilly disobedient and as such, a terrorist. Guilt by
association. It is that simple and that frightening.
This new law of the land will also put strenuous restrictions
on future court injunctions, the notion of bail will be rescinded,
and there will not be any restrictions of our individual police
departments or our national law enforcement agencies to profile
any groups they desire. The only prerequisite is the determination
of suspicion of terrorist activity. Again, the caveat is suspicion
and the loose definition of "terrorist".
On September 11th, 2001, we were subjected to a horrendous
assault. However, in spite of our collective sorrow and the
usual tortoise pace of our congressional leaders, in a record-breaking
forty-five days later the US Patriot Act I became law. From
that moment on, church, political and social activities can
be monitored without knowledge; private phones in private
homes, cell phones, public phones can be tapped; business
owners must release their private business documents upon
demand; librarians must respond to requests of reader's book
selections and if they dare to inform the individual in question
they risk imprisonment. Our homes can be searched without
a warrant; our bodies subjected to searches without any warning;
we could be arrested and denied legal counsel or family refuge.
We are on the threshold of becoming that which we detest.
Friends whisper in fear of being overheard. The fanatical
far-right fringe deems anyone who questions subversive. So
does Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld, and the leader of our land, the President
of these United States of America. Remember: "You're
either with us or against us."
Dear reader, dear friends, dear fellow Americans, do you
not have the fear welling within your belly? Do you not question
what has become of the land of the free, the home of the brave?
We are on the precipice of the demise of all that we hold
dear. If we do not make our voices heard, if we do not become
freedom-loving citizens then we are destined to be no longer
free. It is time, for time is running out. Speak up dear reader.
Shout out dear friends. Be mad as hell fellow Americans… and
refuse to take this anymore.
Norma Sherry is V.P. of Together Forever Changing, an organization
devoted to educating, stimulating, and igniting personal responsibility
particularly with regards to our diminishing civil liberties.
She is also an award-winning writer/producer.