Two years ago this month, on Oct. 25, 2001, the U.S. Senate voted 98-1 in favor of the USA Patriot Act, an assault on constitutional protections and American values so atrocious that legislators in three states and local officials in 189 cities, towns and counties have passed resolutions or ordinances condemning and rejecting its abuse of civil liberties.
More than 25 million Americans live in states or communities - including Madison and Douglas County in Wisconsin - that have officially declared that they oppose those parts of the Patriot Act that trample on our freedoms.
It is doubtful that any statement regarding the Patriot Act will rival the eloquence of the speeches delivered by the one member of the Senate to oppose it, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.
But it is notable that the act has become a target of an artistic resistance that speaks with the same clarity and passion that Feingold displayed when he stood alone in the Senate against the forces of ignorance and repression:
Cartoonists Mike Konopacki and Gary Huck organized the satirical USA Patriot Art exhibition of pro-civil liberties cartoons last year.
Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, the author of the "Left Hand of Darkness," has been appearing at rallies to express the concern of artists regarding a law that clearly threatens freedom of association, movement and expression: "What do attacks on freedom of speech and writing mean to a writer?" Le Guin asks. "It means that somebody's there with a big plug they're trying to fit in your mouth."
Filmmaker Michael Moore says, "Calling this the Patriot Act is quite a dangerous action within itself, because the implication follows: If you speak against the Patriot Act, well, you sure aren't being a good citizen in our country's time of need. When Bush labels his actions as the model of patriotism, he then classifies all dissent as un-American. While this may be comforting to him, it is actually an insult to patriotism. Protecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights demonstrates a great respect for the government of this country and the rights of its citizens, and that sounds downright patriotic."
Rocker Bruce Springsteen: "In times of emergency, the first thing to take a whipping is our civil rights. There were thousands of people detained. Who are they? What happened to them? There was talk of military tribunals. These things are fundamentally against the grain of what's made us who we are."
The latest artistic expression of opposition to the Patriot Act arrived just the other day, in the form of the new Rickie Lee Jones CD. Jones, one of the most conscious and conscientious artists around, has penned a lovely new song titled, "Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act)."
Wrapping her poetry in a cloak of jazz and gospel, Jones sings:
i want to know how far you will go to protect our right of free speech?
because it only took a moment before it faded out of reach ...
oh, tell somebody, tell somebody right now
tell somebody what happened in the usa?
i wanna read about it in the news
i wanna hear about it on tv,
what happened in the usa?
when they ask you what happened in the usa? tell somebody.
they'll wanna know, oh people
the depth of our democracy is only as good as the voices of protest she protects
voices of protest - rise!
The voices of protest are rising, in song, in film, in print, in the streets and in the council chambers of our cities. As this anniversary of the Patriot Act approaches, it's time to turn up the volume, to tell somebody what happened in the USA.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times