Democratic Underground  

Freedom 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 ever experience.

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 comprehensible?

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 it back.

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 Arab-looking.

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.

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