Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ivins’ book is legacy to Bill of Rights

Book cover: "Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights" by Molly Ivins and Lou DuboseWhat began as a book to honor ordinary Americans who defend our most precious liberties, instead paints a chilling picture of human rights abuses directed against ordinary citizens by the Bush Administration.

In her final book, Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch’s Assault on America’s Fundamental Rights, written with Lou Dubose, Molly Ivins explains that she has spoken for years — at least once a month free of charge — about the Bill of Rights because she promised John Henry Faulk she would “take care of the First Amendment, a fairly ludicrous case of overreach.”

While delivering these talks, Ivins started compiling a book that was intended to honor people who are defending U.S. liberties. “I meant for this to be a hopeful and a gladsome romp through some serious terrain, and I do think the book includes some right joyous tales,” she writes. “But since September 11, 2001, the story of those who stand up for American freedom has gotten darker. The extraordinary heroes are still out there, but now we find more victims of our failure to stand up for our own rights.”

The media routinely report upon encroachments against our liberties that are illegal in the bargain — secret police actions, wiretapping without a permit and indefinite suspension without being informed of the charges — as well as violations of international codes of conduct such as the Geneva Conventions but the Executive Branch’s abuses continue unabated and unchecked.

“As much as those victims kick back when their constitutional rights are trampled by their government, it keeps happening, stranger and stranger, creepier and creepier. But of course,” Ivins wryly observes, “we must not scare Americans with phantoms of lost liberty: that would be helping the terrorists.”

This book illustrates ways in which our federal government limits its citizens’ liberties that were guaranteed by the Bill of Rights — usually in the name of “security.” “Free-speech zones” are routinely imposed anytime the President makes an appearance. Dissenters are prohibited from approaching what are otherwise public events — and if they do show up, they are subject to arrest.

In distant so-called “freespeech zones,” dissenters might as well not exist — since, in the act of covering their messages, journalists will have to relinquish their own access to the president. That’s assuming the dissenters are visible at all.

But Ivins’ book also illustrates ways in which citizens have fought back and won. A caravan of demonstrators driving through Crawford, Texas, on their way to the president’s ranch were stopped by a police blockade — supposedly because the motorists were a “parade” without a permit. During the resulting court case, the chief of police was forced to admit that an annual homecoming drive-through also qualified as a “parade,” even though the chief had no intention of ever arresting those cruisers.

Other heroes include parents and school board members who refused to allow religious extremists to hijack their schools’ science curriculum to teach Biblical creationism in the guise of “intelligent design,” journalists who refused to relinquish notes and video when law enforcement agencies tried to make them de-facto “investigators,” a man in Portland, Ore. whose alleged connection to a suspected terrorist read like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and library officials who fought back when agents demanded access to online computer-use records.

Bill of Wrongs is co-written with Lou Dubose, Ivins’ longtime collaborator. In the book’s afterward, Dubose describes how Ivins stayed fully involved in the projectin the remaining days of her life. “This book was Molly’s project, the Bill of Rights her great love, writing her life’s mission.”

Ivins died Jan. 31, 2007, but her final book creates an enduring legacy for the cause that was nearest to her heart.

Published Jan. 10, 2008 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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