Since its inception, our nation has been in a state of perpetual change—hopefully for the better. Social progress in American society has never been easy. As a little old lady I knew in college once told me, “You kids today don’t know what you’ve got or how you got it.” Citing the eight-hour workday, child labor laws and the minimum wage as obvious examples, she said, “You take these things for granted, but people died for them.” I have never forgotten her words, or the earnestness with which she spoke them. Helen grew up during the Great Depression and knew hard times. She died of cancer, on Medicaid, alone in a housing complex for the elderly. I think she knew she was dying when I met her, and meant to tell me things that would have meaning throughout my life.
The wisdom we allow others to share with us is a funny thing. It continues to teach us, taking on new shades of meaning with experience. Helen’s wisdom has been that way. Over time I have come to understand that those rights she told me we take for granted, the rights that people lost their lives for, are the stuff of democracy. We hope that our process becomes more civilized, that dying for positive change is not necessary anymore. Yet, today we find that hatred is still a part of our world, and that people still risk injury or death seeking justice in our society. Another thing Helen told me is that if we don’t watch over the rights we take for granted, they will be taken away from us. Though it’s been difficult to imagine how that could happen in American society, now more than ever I fear Helen was right.
As we hear more and more about the erosion of civil liberties through the passage of the USA Patriot Act, many people are becoming increasingly alarmed. Scott Crichton, executive director of the Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Anita Doyle, the director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula, say they have fielded many calls in recent months from concerned citizens, worried about how the Patriot Act will affect them. Among them: “Do I have to worry about what e-mail lists I’m on?” or “What does it mean that Attorney General John Ashcroft has the power to define who is a terrorist?”
In response to such concerns, the ACLU and the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center have organized a concert at the Missoula Children’s Theater on Friday, Sept. 27, featuring a performance by Charlie King and Karen Brandow.
Born in 1947 and raised in Brockton, Mass., King is the quintessential Baby Boomer. A musical storyteller and political satirist, King has played music for more than 35 years and is among the most respected of American folk musicians today. He cites as musical influences the folk music revival of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and anti-Vietnam War activism. Specifically, one could add Pete Seeger, Malvina Reynolds, Woody Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Si Khan and Ewan MacColl, many of whom are King’s own contemporaries. The War Resisters League gave one of their Peacemaker Awards to King in 1998. As the ACLU’s Crichton puts it, King has a special way of “leaving the audience hopeful and energized for the work ahead.”
The intention of the concert, organizers say, is to provide a place for people to air their questions and concerns about the USA Patriot Act and learn more about a new resolution introduced in the Missoula City Council which gives popular strength to the Bill of Rights.
Representatives from the ACLU and the Peace Center will be on hand with information, including analyses of the Patriot Act and a draft copy of the “Bill of Rights Defense Resolution.” John Fletcher, who helped draft the Missoula resolution based a similar one recently passed by the community of Northhampton, Mass., says the document lends supports to local law enforcement officials who might otherwise feel too intimidated by federal authorities to oppose infringements on Missoula residents’ civil rights.