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Norma Sherry: The Day Democracy Was Put On Hold

The Day Democracy Was Put On Hold

By Norma Sherry

For the greater majority of the world, we remember the exact moment when John F. Kennedy was shot, when Challenger blew up in the Florida sky, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and how the strike on Pearl Harbor instigated the United States into joining France and England in fighting against the evil totalitarian regimes of the world. These are days, historic and momentous events that have forever changed our world. On that, I offer with a sense of certainty, most of us would agree. But, dear readers, fellow citizens, there is another date, of just a mere moment ago, that I would offer with as much certainty, the great number of us have no recollection or knowledge. It was the day our civil liberties were put on hold. Actually, to be more literal and in absolute correctness - it was the day our civil liberties and all that we hold dear - were obliterated.

The date you may ask, was October 26th, 2001. The day our representatives, the very ones we voted into office to safeguard our principles, minus one, signed the historic document that will forevermore alter our freedoms: The U.S. Patriot Act. (Is the acronym for: Uniting and strengthening America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism.) The U.S. Patriot Act, named thusly I suggest, to reinforce the notion that any one who speaks ill of this document will be thought of as anything but a patriot.

Nay, you say. You completely misunderstand, you say. The Patriot Act was created to protect us from terrorism. "Don't you understand", I'm told, "that in times such as this we have to be willing to give up a little to be safe."

This is not a new stance.

It has been told many times in our past. We heard it when we rounded up and housed our Japanese populace during World War II, because we were told they may be conspiring with our Japanese enemy. We heard it when McCarthy rounded up American citizens considered un-American; brought them before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and subjected them to tell false tales upon one another in fear of being blacklisted. We heard it when Congress passed The Alien Registration Act. That was when it became law that any alien resident above the age of 14 had to report their personal and occupational status, as well as, their personal political beliefs in a formal statement to the U.S. government. This same Act, also referred to as The Smith Act, also made it a crime to write about overthrowing the government. God-forbid one belonged to a group that advocated this principle, wittingly or unwittingly, they were imprisoned, and our Supreme Court refused to review their cases.

But nothing, dear reader, in our complete history offers a more clear and present danger to our personal well-being, then that which is stipulated in The U.S. Patriot Act. An Act unread by our esteemed representatives and passed without a scintilla of discussion, or dare I say, debate.

Permit me, if you will, an opportunity to share some of the more horrific and frightening new conditions of life in these United States under the auspices of The Patriot Act.

Surveillance and spying on its citizenry is at a new accelerated hysteria. From here on in, take it for granted that our government, yours and mine, may spy on our every move. If you search the Internet or use the World Wide Web for research, our government can now opt to watch our every move; our every keystroke. It matters not if you're not a terrorist, or even a terrorist at heart, or a subversive, or not. From the moment of commencing The Patriot Act law of the land, the mere question of ones voracity makes them subject to being spied upon. One doesn't even have to be the target of the investigation. All that needs to take place in order to have your personal movements monitored is the suggestion that the monitoring may be relevant to an investigation… any investigation, my friends.

Okay, you say, that doesn't apply to me, I don't have a computer. Well, perhaps this will give you pause. The United States government, under the law of The Patriot Act, can now wiretap your home phone. In fact, they can now get a roving wire tap on any individual deemed relevant to an investigation. Roving, for those of you questioning, is any phone you may use be it a cell phone, a public phone, a neighbors phone, a friend's phone. No longer is there query into what is being looked for, listened to, or recorded, or for how long they will be listening.

Search warrants, Miranda rights, attorney/client protection, all rights we fought for and have been amended to our Constitution have become null and void within the 342 pages of The U.S. Patriot Act. If you happen to be so unlucky as to gain the attention of our government, and this attention is unflattering, at least, or questionable, at best, you could find yourself housed in a government stockade without access to legal representation or family counsel for an undisclosed period of time, even indefinitely. No one, not your spouse, or anyone you know will be apprised of your incarceration. When, and if, you are permitted to seek legal guidance, your lawyer client relationship is no longer sanctified. No longer is your right to know or question your arrest viable.

Your home, my home, anyone's home, can be searched without a warrant with little less than a guess, and there is no end or beginning to when and how this search or searches take place. Our bank accounts and credit card accounts can be examined without our knowing it is so. Even what one chooses to watch on cable television can be scrutinized.

Court orders, probable cause, and justification are words no longer viewed appropriate in our new world order. Librarians are now demanded to turn over a list of books verifying an individuals reading history upon request. Business records are no longer private and are subject to examination upon demand.

Shades of Big Brother come to my mind. So do the words of warning of Nostradamus, H.G. Wells, and George Orwell. The prophetic writings of scholars past, of storytellers of long ago, and even the biblical proffering of the New Testament come screeching to my mind. How is it possible that we find ourselves stripped of our 1st, 4th, and 6th Amendment rights? Is this America; the home of democracy; the republic the world wishes to emulate? Where are our legislators?

As I write this, with the full intent of sharing my fearful understanding of what we have lost, and knowing full well that this is just the beginning, I can't help being afraid that Attorney General Ashcroft will deem me a subversive. I can't help fearing I'll be detained the next flight I take; that my home will no longer be my sanctuary; that my friends may be frightened when my government implies that my patriotism is questionable; that I may find myself in a stockade; that no one, not my husband, nor my family will know where I am.

For the first time in my life, I am afraid and it's not the terrorist that scares me.


- Norma Sherry,

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