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In Support of Protest, Free Speech
In 2004 I ran for vice president of the United States representing the Green Party, an alternative political party. If Major League Baseball had only two teams, fewer people would care about that game, too.
I spoke at rallies, marched in parades, hand-delivered political documents to state houses across the nation: I even got to spend four days at Parris Island with the U.S. Marine Corps.
If you want to know why Marines are proud, spend a few days with them while they train.
After the election, our campaign challenged the election results in Ohio, which set me back on the road. Speaking around the country - repeatedly traveling to Washington, D.C. - I even got a gig hosting the festivities for the counterinaugural in MacPherson Square.
When people warn about the FBI bugging my phone or reading my e-mails, I laugh. Our country is all about protest and free speech. And anyway, they're watching the big fish, not little activists like me. George Orwell's "1984" Big Brother lives in a totalitarian anti-democratic nation.
The closest I've gotten to someone keeping tabs on me was my mom: When she died we found an old newspaper from 1979 with a picture of activists protesting apartheid and my face was circled.
But this week National Security Agency whistle-blower Russell Tice - who spilled the beans about our warrantless wiretapping program - dropped the dime again on the NSA. He told MSNBC that it has been watching the media, "24/7, and you know, 365 days a year."
Spying on U.S. citizens violates the Constitution. Illegally monitoring the press is tyranny. The press is the watchdog of the government, the eyes and ears of the electorate. The government and the people may not always like the media, but as Orwell said, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear."
Let's say this went on in the Clinton years. And Linda Tripp's conversations with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff had been intercepted by the same White House she was telling sex stories about. Why, the White House could have tried to suppress the story.
Who does end up in secret prisons? Not members of the media? OK, how about people who talk to the media?
Now, I prefer to think my countrymen wouldn't do that to one another. But the problem with warrantless spying on U.S. citizens and suspended habeas corpus is that it becomes possible.
With the media in the cross hairs of the NSA only Congress was left to protect the liberties of the American people. Russell Tice explained that this too failed. The NSA spied on folks "in the middle of the country." Not foreign nationals, but folks who "never made a communication - foreign communications at all."
Tice said that Congress was powerless because "the agency would tailor some of their briefings to try to be deceptive."
I shouldn't be surprised - my friends tell me - if my big mouth and noisy keyboard get me watched. After all, I've got a history of this: I wrote to Richard Nixon when I was 11 years old asking him to do something about the race riots in my hometown so that they'd stop canceling school.
But when I write a column that defends gays or homeless veterans or the privacy of young women or the poor or the innocent victims of war, the few people who write invectives at the bottom of the column or to my e-mail think they have liberty and privacy. See, they refuse to sign their names or say where they work so that they can practice their hate speech with all the blessings a free country provides. But now, because they wrote to the media, they have no assurance of liberty or anonymity.
Thanks to Russell Tice we know that the NSA has been monitoring private correspondence with the press and that the government knows the origins of those electronic submissions. Once someone wrote to the press, the government got to decide whether to collect information on where he or she lived and what else was on his or her computer.
It's time to reread Orwell. He said, "When man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom he destroys."