I admit to being an ďaging hippieĒ from the east coast, and as such I associated with a number of avowed Communists during the Ď60s and Ď70s. On more occasions than Iíd like to remember I found myself defending the USA against the harsh criticism of my intimates. Hippies hate defending the establishment. Itís not that I was against change Ė oh, I was definitely in favor of that Ė itís just that I appreciated our freedoms so much.
My Communist associates would point to discrimination and the poor, and would make a good case that Communist states treat their citizens better. They would point to lower crime rates and a strong military and say that people are more secure under a Communist regime.
I would point to the loss of freedoms, and they would say that the trade off was worth it. The number one priority must be the well-being of the people. Freedoms must come second.
It seemed like common sense that security should be the first concern, yet I found myself arguing that freedoms must come first. Without freedom the people do not get to decide for themselves what is important. If you lose freedom of the press, you lose the freedom to know what is best for you. If you lose the freedom to assemble, protest and vote you lose the ability to easily effect changes. I pointed out that it is a one-way street from which it is very difficult to return.
I donít think I changed many minds, but I did solidify my position in my own mind.
With the passing of the ďPatriotĒ act, I see the same challenges to our freedoms coming from a different direction, but surprisingly I feel the same arguments apply. Freedoms must come first. Security must be subservient to those freedoms.
It is not that I donít feel threatened by terrorists and the events of September 11th; I do. The twin towers were a part of the view out my apartment window for years. I rode the PATH subway train to them perhaps hundreds of times, and I suspect I knew people who died in those towers, though I donít want to know who. Even at this distance, I try to feel safe but canít.
If we are willing to give up freedoms whenever threatened, anyone who wants to control our lives needs only convince us we are threatened. Without these freedoms we are left to trust our leaders to be good people and do the right thing. But are we forgetting that power corrupts?
Eventually, probably sooner rather than later, someone unworthy of our trust will betray us, and the worst part is that we may not even know. We may even thank them for keeping us secure.
Freedoms first, security second. Reject the Patriot act as an act of patriotism. Anything else is a one-way street, so letís turn off the turn signal.