After a recent congressional vote on the "Freedom to Read Protection Act," one angry member said: "You win some, and some get stolen."
He was a Republican, defying George W., John Ashcroft and his own party's top leadership in Congress -- all of whom lobbied furiously (and unethically) to defeat this act, which sought to ensure one of our most basic American liberties: The right to keep government snoops and bullies from secretly spying on the reading habits of perfectly innocent citizens. What could be more mom-and-apple-pie than that?
Bush, Ashcroft and their cronies, however, had undermined this fundamental freedom with a nasty provision they tucked into their infamous, liberty-busting USA Patriot Act of 2001. It allows federal agents to get a secret order from a secret court to walk into any public library or bookstore and demand the records of any and all patrons, without showing anyone -- even the court -- any evidence that the people being investigated are involved in any criminal activity. It's autocratic power like this that led to the American Revolution.
And just as in 1776, today's librarians, bookstore owners, writers and freedom-loving people of all political stripes have risen up against the Bushites' authoritarian, un-American intrusion into our privacy. This grassroots uprising led to the Freedom to Read Act, which would have halted the intrusion.
The good news is that the act passed 219 to 201. The sad news is that the GOP hierarchy then cheated. They held the vote open beyond the 15 minutes allowed by the rules, taking an extra 23 minutes while the leaders broke the arms of nine Republicans, forcing them to switch votes. This finally produced a 210-210 tie, defeating the act. In other words, the Bushites stole it... and they also stole an important piece of our liberties.
But we've only begun to fight this insult to democracy. To join the uprising, call the American Library Association at (800) 545-2433.
Publication date: 07/29/04