Word that Attorney General John Ashcroft has sicced already thinly stretched counter-terror forces of the FBI on protesters planning for peaceful protest against the Republicans and the Bush administration during the Republican National Convention shows how far this nation has gone down the road to thought police and the undermining of the basic freedoms on which the country was founded.
I got personal lesson about how deeply the fear of dissent has permeated society when I went to my local library in Upper Dublin with a copy of my new book “This Can’t Be Happening!” in hand, to offer to do a signing and discussion for interested local residents.
The librarian took my book and said she’d be in touch.
A day later, I got an email from her saying, “As a local author with a timely subject, this program would be appropriate. However, as a library, we must retain our neutral position on all subjects, and we are concerned that a discussion of topics that people feel so passionately about could quickly become inflammatory. Therefore, I was wondering if you could provide me with the contact information for two or three of the libraries at which you’ve spoken previously.”
As of now, I’m not sure whether my local library will decide to host a session on the book or not. Hopefully they’ll buck up, remember the First Amendment, and go ahead, but the nervousness being expressed already is disturbing enough.
The idea that a library would be anxious about presenting a talk by an author of a politically controversial book simply boggles the mind.
It makes you wonder how libraries would have responded back in 1777 or 1778 to an offer by Tom Paine to give a reading from his book “Common Sense,” or an offer by Thomas Jefferson to give a reading of the “Declaration of Independence.”
Upper Dublin is no hotbed of right-wing loonies. A suburban bedroom community just north of Philadelphia, it is populated by educated and fairly socially liberal families, both professional and working class, and is fairly evenly divided politically between Republicans and Democrats, with Republicans having a slight edge.
I know that there are librarians who are heroically standing fast for the First Amendment on issues like book bannings, and the Patriot Act, which allows government agents to peruse, without a warrant, the check-out lists of libraries at will, and which makes it a felony for librarians to notify individual patrons that the FBI is checking their book borrowing records, even though there is no criminal investigation underway.
Still, if a librarian is afraid of controversy in a community like mine, one shudders to imagine how her counterparts are handling controversy in really conservative communities in the South or the Midwest.
Ashcroft, Bush and Cheney are certainly having an impact on the level of permissible discourse in America.
It’s a sad day when the Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores have more courage than the local library.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org