by Penny Teal
Originally published in the Mystic River Press

Benjamin Franklin once said that those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. While that position sounds harsh, it does resonate with many Americans these days who see our government chipping away at the Bill of Rights, undermining the Constitution, and generally making some very undemocratic changes here in America.

The foundations of our democracy are vital to those of us who want to choose our religious and political affiliations without having our privacy invaded. Most of us equate our nation with our rights and freedoms, and cannot imagine living in a repressive country where freedom of assembly, speech and religion are restricted, or where anyone could be imprisoned indefinitely and secretly, without any charges filed against them. Therefore, a group of residents along the shoreline are petitioning our town and state governments to denounce recent legislation and executive orders which have created just such an unacceptable situation.

In at least 45 cities across the nation, resolutions have been passed in defense of the Bill of Rights (see These resolutions typically address the woefully underreported (and egregiously misnamed) USA PATRIOT Act.

None of the limits recently placed on our freedoms has enhanced our security. Although the provisions outlined in the 340-plus pages of the PATRIOT Act deal a devastating blow to our democratic rights, they would have done nothing to prevent the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 (see the London Observer, 27 October 2002, Review Section pp. 1-4, and, for starters).

Juli Mancini, a Pawcatuck resident, explained her reasons for supporting this resolution, and helping to collect signatures, thusly: "George Bush is attempting to cut a clear path, eliminating any 'fringe' that may make his job more difficult. I understand that he feels it is a better and more expedient methodology of protecting the U.S. citizens by undermining our human rights, but I personally would feel better if I knew that I could speak my mind freely, the same as that of the Bush supporter, without fear of paying an unknown consequence."

Those of us involved in this effort value the checks and balances set in place by the Constitution, with separate powers afforded to the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial Branches of government, so that no one of them wields excessive power. We think it unreasonable that law-abiding people should have to submit to random search and seizure, fear that our phone might be tapped for having checked out a book on politics from our local library, or fear that our names might be put in a file labeled "domestic terrorists" if we stand peacefully at a vigil opposing some government action.

"While terror is the weapon of the powerless, it is also the favored weapon of the totalitarian state. I dread the possibility that our country could be moving in that direction," says Regional Multicultural Magnet School teacher Hugh Birdsall. "Every day I pray, perhaps in vain, that God will send us leaders who are wise instead of leaders who are merely clever."

I have a personal stake in this project, because (as was learned by a Green who was refused the right to board a plane last year) the Green Party has been placed on a list of "suspicious organizations," and I ran as a Green Party candidate in 2002 and remain active in the party. It is beyond irony that one of the few, if not the only US political party explicitly committed to nonviolence is the one chosen as a possible "terrorist" entity.

Anyone associated with a church that opposes the war in Iraq, anyone who has donated money to an organization the FBI doesn't like (and several environmental and humanitarian groups could be among them) is fair game for surveillance. The broad, vague definitions now in use guarantee that each and every one of us personally knows individuals who could conceivably be targeted. And of course, anyone who is of Arab descent is at particular risk, through no fault of their own but merely by association.

Do I think that my phone might be tapped? Doubtful. I am too small a fish in the political ocean. Do I think that friends of mine and others with more visibility than I might be under surveillance despite their strictly lawful behavior? Absolutely. Do I think we are beyond the irrational, career-wrecking, sometimes life-wrecking excesses of McCarthyism in the new millennium in America? Unfortunately, no.

If we are to keep the world safe for democracy, let's start at home by demanding that our own rights not be sacrificed. What a sad thing it would be, were democracy itself to become a casualty of the war on terrorism. Americans must show solidarity and resolve to prevent another disaster like McCarthyism or the Japanese detention camps of WW2.

While we may not agree with Ben Franklins blunt judgment, in the end we don't have to sacrifice freedom for security. Let's not.

Petitions to defend the Bill of Rights are being circulated by many individuals in the area. To sign or to help gather signatures, you can call me at 536-4980, or call Chris Martenson at 536-5179.

Penny Teal is a former Green Party candidate for the CT State Senate.