Greens, Airports and ID Cards

Oden’s an organic farmer who lives in Jonesboro, Maine. She’s also an organizer for the Green Party USA. She was on her way to Chicago for a Green Party convention, got hassled by a National Guardsman at Bangor airport and finally told she couldn’t board her flight. Oden thinks it’s because of a Green Party statement she co-authored that ran in the local newspaper. The statement calls for universal health care, limitations on free trade, and a stop to “U.S. military incursions” including the bombing of Afghanistan. The US Green Party has labeled the U.S. military actions there an act of “state terrorism.”

Here’s how Oden described her experience to Declan McCullagh, political editor of Wired. “Just a few weeks ago I had a piece in the Bangor paper. It’s on our website,… I submitted it under my name alone. It’s a fairly radical piece; that’s what I do. I’m a political and environmental activist. “I walked into the Bangor airport. What I saw was National Guardfolks all over carrying machine guns… The atmosphere was very tense… This was Thursday… I went over to the American Airlines ticket counter way down at the end. Nobody else was there, except the clerk.

“I gave him my name. He didn’t even ask for photo ID. It was almost like they were expecting me. He put it into the computer. He stayed on the computer a long time, like 10 minutes. “He put an S on the boarding pass, for search. He said, ‘You’ve been picked for having your bag searched.’ … I said to him, ‘This wasn’t random, was it?’ He said, ‘No you were in there to be searched, no matter what.’ I went over to baggage to put my bags through the X-ray and then went into the boarding area.

“There was this National Guard guy there. He yells over at me, so everyone can hear, ‘Bring your bags over here.’ You know how they are when they’re all puffed up with themselves. He said, ‘Hurry up,’ so I slowed down some more. I put my bags on the table. The two women employees were standing there. I tried to help them with a stuck zipper. He grabbed my left arm, he started yelling in my face, ‘Don’t you know what happened? Sep. 11, don’t you know thousands of people died?’ I said, ‘You can’t do that.’ He went to grab my arm, and I said, ‘Don’t touch me.’ I saw an older airline guy shake his head, ‘No,’ and he backed off.

“They did the wand thing, they were done, and I heard him say real soft, ‘Don’t let her on the plane,’ like he was talking to himself. Then this little guard guy, it wasn’t enough to stop me, wasn’t done with me. He said, ‘Come with me.’ I followed very slowly; I sat down for a while. I said I’m carrying these bags; I need a rest… It’s called passive resistance.

“He went and found the airport police to come and talk with me. He went and got six other National Guard guys and they all approached me. Here are these six untrained, ignorant, don’t-know-how-to-deal-with-the-public, machine-gun-armed young guys in their camouflage suits with their military gear hanging off of it.

“I looked up and started laughing, ‘Is all this for me, guys? What is this about?’ There was this big burly guy, he was in front. He said, ‘You didn’t cooperate with the search.’ … I said what he did was grabbed my arm, and I backed away… He said he only hit your arm. I said even if that’s all he did, he’s not allowed to do that. He can’t hit my arm and demand I listen to him. They had the airport policeman tell me, ‘You’re not flying out of this airport today.’ … Of course I had cooperated; why do I care if they search my bags? … What I didn’t like was being singled out because of my political views. I never made it out of Bangor. I had to turn around and drive 100 miles back home… The fact that they gave the other airlines my name… They told me they did that… That’s incredible.”

Here’s a little footnote on sectarianism. Oden’s a member of the Green Party USA, as distinct from the Association of Green Parties with which Ralph Nader is associated. There’s ill-feeling between the two groups. When Oden’s experience at Bangor went the rounds, Naderite Greens were quick to belittle the affair. “Leader of Green splinter group fibs about airport hassle” was the title on one sneering email forwarded by Naderite Bill Kaufman of the Manhattan Greens. It went on, “while the undue harassment of airline travelers is to be condemned, it does not seem that this incident warrants fears of a major violation of Constitutional guarantees of free speech, as it first appeared. The group that Nancy Oden leads is nevertheless using the incident to draw attention and support to itself.”

When we posted Oden’s press release about the incident on our site, along with Declan’s interview with her, we were flooded with emails from angry Naderite Greens, who smeared Oden in the vilest terms. Lorna Saltzman denounced her as “Marxist-Stalinist-lentilist.” Another referred to her as a “hysterical woman” who probably deserved whatever she got. Yet another said that she wasn’t really a political leader but only “an organic farmer with an axe to grind about genetically engineered crops.” Other Green Party flacks were just glad that their faction of the party wasn’t on a no-fly list and they could continue to rack up the frequent flier miles.

You’ll recall that when a Boston cop stopped Nader from attending the first debate between Bush and Gore, his supporters rushed to denounce the breach of Nader’s constitutional rights. Anyone wanting further illumination about the perils of political sectarianism should watch Python’s Life of Brian, for my money the greatest political movie ever made. Whether or not Oden’s name was in the computer list or whether the National Guardsman was just being an asshole, you can be sure she’s on some sort of a list now.

Oden is not the only victim of paranoia in these panicky times. As he related a couple of weeks ago on this site, our friend Tariq Ali, the noted radical, was recently hauled off by the polizei in Munich for the crime of having a book by Marx in his suitcase as he was trying to board a plane back to London. The fact that he is Pakistani by ethnic origin probably didn’t help. Tariq, whose historical novels are immensely popular in Germany, reports that the guard searching his bags became excited at a copy of the Times Literary Supplement, particularly in the notes Tariq had scribbled in the margin. Then the guard espied a slim vol, still in its cellophane, titled Karl Marx on Suicide. That was it. Tariq was hauled off by the guard who said complacently, “After September 11, you can’t travel with books like this.” “In that case,” Tariq snappily replied, “You should stop publishing them or burn them in full public view. ” Finally Tariq pulled rank about his friend the Mayor of Munich and was put back on his plane.

Further proof of the advantages of reading Marx. If he’d been properly educated in the Classics, the guard would have realised that no follower of Marx would believe in the political efficacy of acts of terror. That was the province of hateful anarchism, as promulgated by Marx’s sworn foe, Bakunin. We doubt Marx is on the Al-Qaeda reading lists.

That National ID Card The last time there was a big push for a national ID card was back in Reagantime. The notion was being batted around in one cabinet meeting and, as he later related the episode, domestic policy advisor Martin Anderson put up his hand and the Gipper benignly offered the floor. Anderson said he had a better idea. “Why not just tattoo a number on everyone’s arm.” That ended the debate for the timer being, though like all such instruments of bureaucratic control, the ID card has always been lurking in the wings awaiting fresh opportunity, which of course it found with September 11.

Oracle’s Larry Ellison has been pushing the card, as have supposed civil libertarians like Alan Dershowitz, friend of torture, whom we heard duking it out with Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute on CNN the other day. Lynch made a principled case against the idea of the ID card as an intolerable affront to the Bill of Rights. If it comes to pass, the card probably won’t do much in the way of foiling terrorists, but it will become a standard tool of law enforcement, like a driver’s license, only worse. These days you can have your driver’s license yanked without due process, for such offenses as showing up on the computer as a deadbeat dad. No car or truck in many places in this country means you can’t work, unless you’re prepared to get caught for driving without a license and without insurance coverage, which can get to be heavy.

So suppose, a couple of years down the road, you show up at an airport without your ID card, you join the line going through intensive search and interrogation. Or you have your card, and maybe that misdemeanor conviction for a demonstration twenty years early shows up, as well as all your outstanding parking tickets and credit card bills. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.