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Americans Pay Price for Speaking Out
Published on Saturday, August 9, 2003 by the Toronto Star
GW Bush's America
Americans Pay Price for Speaking Out
Dissenters Face Job Loss, Arrest, Threats But Activists not Stopped by Backlash
by Kathleen Kenna

He's a Vietnam War hero from a proud lineage of warriors who served the United States, so he never expected to be called a traitor.

After 39 years in the Marines, including commands in Somalia and Iraq, Gen. Anthony Zinni never imagined he would be tagged "turncoat."

Musician Carlos Santana was cheered in Australia — a key U.S. ally in the Iraq war and recent proponent of the "Bush doctrine" of intervention in smaller states' affairs — when he spoke against the war and American foreign policy.

The epithets are not from the uniforms but the suits — "senior officers at the Pentagon," the now-retired general says from his home in Williamsburg, Va.

"They want to question my patriotism?" he demands testily.

To question the Iraq war in the U.S. — and individuals from Main St. merchants to Hollywood stars do — is to be branded un-American.

Dissent, once an ideal cherished in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, now invites media attacks, hate Web sites, threats and job loss.

After Zinni challenged the administration's rationale for the Iraq war last fall, he lost his job as President George W. Bush's Middle East peace envoy after 18 months.

"I've been told I will never be used by the White House again."

Across the United States, hundreds of Americans have been arrested for protesting the war. The American Civil Liberties Union has documented more than 300 allegations of wrongful arrest and police brutality from demonstrators at anti-war rallies in Washington and New York.

Even the silent, peaceful vigils of Women in Black — held regularly in almost every state — have prompted threats of arrest by American police.

Actors and spouses Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon have publicly denounced the backlash against them for their anti-war activism.

Robbins said they were called "traitors" and "supporters of Saddam" and their public appearances at a United Way luncheon in Florida and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this spring were cancelled in reaction to their anti-war stance.

Actor/comedian Janeane Garofalo was stalked and received death threats for opposing the war in high-profile media appearances.

MSNBC hosts asked viewers to urge MCI to fire actor and anti-war activist Danny Glover as a spokesperson — the long-distance telephone giant refused to fire him despite the ensuing hate-mail campaign — and one host, former politician Joe Scarborough, urged that anti-war protesters be arrested and charged with sedition.

"There's no official blacklisting," says Kate McArdle, executive director of Artists United, a new group of 120 actors devoted to progressive causes.

"This is Hollywood, so there are always rumours starting up. Mostly it was producers saying, `We know your position — do you have to be so vocal?'"

Internet chat rooms have spouted "tons and tons of vitriol aimed at us," says McArdle, a former network TV executive.

"Things like, `Tell me where Tim Robbins lives and I'll go bash out his brains,'" she says.

"Or, `If you don't like America, why don't you move to Iraq? Why don't you move to Canada?'

"The real backlash comes from the right wing, from America's talk radio guys — when their ratings are down — not from the industry," McArdle says. "We get the `You're either with us or agin' us.'"

Comes with the territory, she adds.

"We're a nation of dissenters."

The Dixie Chicks country pop group won worldwide attention for their anti-Bush comments, which were met with widespread radio station bans against playing their music. Their fans have responded by circulating petitions on the Internet objecting to the "chill" that has tried to silence free speech in the U.S.

And opposition to the war has spawned many new songs — some remixes of old Vietnam protest songs — and Web sites devoted to anti-war lyrics.

Dozens of fans walked out of a Pearl Jam concert in Denver, Colo., last spring when lead singer Eddie Vedder hoisted a Bush mask on a microphone stand and sang, "He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer."

But musician Carlos Santana was cheered in Australia — a key U.S. ally in the Iraq war and recent proponent of the "Bush doctrine" of intervention in smaller states' affairs — when he spoke against the war and American foreign policy.

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


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