I was cleaning out an old folder on my hard drive the other day and found this piece that I wrote back on December 2, 2002, entitled “We, the People…” I don’t remember why I wrote it, but I thought it was interesting that six years to the day later, we are still fighting the exact same battles. Sure, we did elect Obama since I wrote this, but by and large, I still agree with my old self. Not sure if that is good or bad. You be the judge.
In the midst of the post-September 11 clamoring for justice, many Americans have readily accepted attacks on their civil liberties. A few individuals have addressed the aggressors, with John Ashcroft and John Poindexter drawing the bulk of the ire. The megalomaniacal fervor displayed by these two “patriots” is undeniable. However, there is little mention of a larger problem: we, the apathetic people.
The media repeatedly informs us that we are now a vigilant people. We are so vigilant that rather than demand genuine improvements in the security of our air travel, we Americans have allowed the development of futile safety standards and an increased visibility of security to satiate our need for actual security. Knitting needles, initially banned following September 11, are again in the cabins of airplanes. Likewise, scanning of checked luggage for explosives rarely occurs. Evidently, our vigilance only lasts until it is inconvenient.
Apathetic Americans are currently allowing national security concerns to trample our constitutional rights. Basic civics teaches us that the fourth amendment guarantees each American freedom from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause. Ashcroft and Poindexter will gladly pilfer your fourth amendment rights from you in this time of terror, the former with the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act and the latter with his Total Information Awareness system.
An otherwise-intelligent American recently said to me, “I am not doing anything wrong, so why should I be afraid? Let Poindexter track my every move. Let Ashcroft try me in a secret court.” Skilled politicians easily manipulate those suffering from a myopic worldview. This is the most dangerous outlook to possess in times such as these and precisely that which we must combat if we are to preserve our freedoms. These are the attitudes that breed complacency. Complacency, once achieved within the masses, frees the authorities to alter reality. This includes dictating right and wrong.
It is critically important that we prevent Poindexter from assembling a dossier on every American by simply crying “Terrorism!” Most Americans, when informed, would not support this “experiment” with information gathering technology, budgeted for $200 million, enabling the gathering of every detail of the private and public life of every American without showing cause in open court. Likewise, there should be an outcry against Ashcroft’s prosecution of American citizens in secret tribunals. As Poindexter’s motto reads, “Scientia est Potentia,” knowledge is power. This power cannot lie in the hands of these men, while we sit accused of nothing. The apathy must stop here. It is imperative that Americans begin to engage in active citizenship.
In this tumultuous time, some are grasping for power that would be far out of reach in simpler times. Our new vigilance seemingly does not apply to protecting our inalienable rights as Americans. This unchecked ambition must not thrive. Adaptations are necessary in any time of war, but we must not sacrifice the fundamental freedoms that separate this nation from the rest of the world. It is the loss of those freedoms that will signal the victory of the terrorists.