The War on Civil Liberties Hits Home


“The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”

Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA), on his return from touring Baghdad with other Republican congressmen to see “what’s going right in Iraq.”

October 2003

On October 26, the current erosion of civil liberties in the United States affected me most personally.

On that sunny Saturday, in Washington, DC, my daughter, 2-year-old granddaughter and I joined 50,000 Americans opposed to the Iraq War in the protest organized by International ANSWER and VoteNoWar.

Participants included thousands of veterans and soldiers’ families, as well as members of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of family members who lost loved ones during the September 11 attacks and who are actively speaking out against the Bush administration’s campaign of “endless war.” It was a wonderful experience, shared in solidarity by simultaneous demonstrators in San Francisco and other US cities, as well as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in other countries around the world.

In the late afternoon, filled with the exhilaration of the protest, my daughter, granddaughter and I decided to go to the food court at the Ronald Reagan Building for some refreshment before taking the Metro back to my daughter’s home in suburban Virginia.

As we passed through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the building, one of the guards politely informed me that I’d have to put away my poster, which reads, “End the Occupation of Iraq.” I had no problem with that, so I rolled up the poster and stashed it in my tote bag.

I also happened to be wearing a t-shirt, purchased at the protest, over a black turtleneck. The shirt is red, with “Unite to Fight Imperialist War” printed in black letters, arranged in a 7-inch circle around an image of two clasped hands — one white, and one black. On the back, it says “No Imperialist War,” repeated in 19 languages. It’s a beautiful shirt.

It was when the guard politely informed me that I’d have to remove my t-shirt that the exhilaration of the day faded. As the guard was obviously from the Middle East, I explained that, in wearing the shirt, I was exercising my right to freedom of speech as guaranteed to American citizens under our Constitution. He politely said he understood that, but that I had to remove the shirt before he could allow me to enter the building. Not wanting to involve my daughter and granddaughter in a scene, feeling sickened, I removed the shirt. I believe the guard was as mortified as I was.

I instantly regretted my decision to comply with this violation of my civil rights, and I regret it still. The fact that I went to the nearest restroom and put the shirt on again didn’t make me feel any better.

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center is a federal property — it is owned by me and every other American citizen. That I acquiesced to a requirement to doff one of our most treasured constitutional rights along with my shirt in order to enter a federal building in the nation’s capitol has left me with feelings of outrage and shame. Outrage that The Land of the Free is no such thing, and shame that I didn’t have the presence of mind to protest this injustice loudly enough to get hauled off to jail.

Americans must not be required to shed our constitutional rights in order to enter federal property — OUR property.

Shireen Parsons lives in Virginia. She can be reached at: parsons@counterpunch.org.


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving