I've been in the media for many years now. Most of that time has been spent on the news side of the business. I've been a reporter, an anchor, a host and an interviewer. I've been in politics from time to time but got out of activism a few years ago. Since then, I've avoided making political comments on Facebook or Twitter and hope this isn't considered a political statement. It's designed to be something about culture.
In the news business, we often brag about our role that demands we ask the tough questions of those in charge. There's quite a bit of self-importance felt in newsrooms, to be honest. That's because we feel we're called to hold important people accountable for their decisions and we're supposed to be generally skeptical of things.
So, I want to question some very important people...you. The American people.
As I type this, the 19-year-old who is suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon has apparently just been captured. There are cheers out loud and cheers online over that.
If he did it, then I'm thrilled that he's in police custody.
But, America, I have some questions for you because I've been watching your decisions that I think deserve skepticism.
Maybe I was one of the few who didn't feel good about hearing that a "lock down" had been ordered for Boston, one of our nation's largest cities. Then, that lock down was expanded to surrounding towns. People were told to stay inside and only open the door for approved, uniformed government personnel.
Over a million people were ordered to not engage in commerce, not to earn money to pay their bills and deny their children an education that day. A few city and state officials (maybe just one or two) made that decision for them without any objection from what I could see.
That personnel went door to door, demanding unquestioned access to search homes without a warrant. Those teams exited their military Humvees equipped with machine guns and body armor, they demanded to be let in even if the homeowner knew for a fact the teenager they were looking for was not there.
Image from Yahoo
It was for everyone's own good, though, and access was granted. Maybe some didn't like it but, hey, all these guys have big guns and who's going to argue with that?
Yes, I know what the suspect is accused of doing. I am no less angry about it than you are. If the young man who was captured is guilty, then I hope he gets a speedy and fair trial, a just conviction and the harshest penalty possible.
Government even pleaded with media and individuals to not communicate in certain ways. Your Tweet or Facebook post might tip the suspect off as to where they are, so stop talking to each other.
You don't want the bad guy to get away, right? Just comply and give up your rights for a little while, people were told. It's for your safety.
I guess my surprise is at the fact those demands and those actions were apparently not at least controversial.
How did we get to a point where thousands of people, without objection or even question, comply with unilateral orders to not earn a living, not go to school, not go on vacation, not enjoy that day off and visit the coffee shop?
Well, America (not just Boston, because I believe the same response would have happened anywhere in this nation), this has been a long time coming and you've forgotten how you got us here.
After 9/11, we were told we had to be safer, so the government put blue shirt nobodies between us and our travel. They ordered us to stand down as they did things to our bodies that, in any other circumstance, would be prosecuted as sexual assault.
We complained. We asked "if we give up this portion of our rights, what's next?" We demanded to be treated like free people and not criminal suspects. We were told that safety required it. We were told how these objections were unreasonable. It's not a big deal, after all; it's just a little inconvenience and it's worth it.
You don't want someone to sneak something dangerous on the plane, do you? Now get rid of that shampoo.
So, the complaints eventually dissipated and what once made us angry is now hardly noticed. It's the new normal and we're conditioned to accept it.
But, it didn't stop there.
Government demanded that we submit our financial information to them when we open even a basic bank account. God forbid you deposit a large amount of money in it at once - that has to be reported as well, even when there's no suspicion of a crime taking place.
We complained. We asked "if we give up this portion of our rights, what's next?" We demanded to be treated like free people and not criminal suspects. We were told safety required it. We were told how these objections were unreasonable. It's not a big deal, after all; it's just a quick form on the computer. It's just a little inconvenience and it's worth it.
You don't want to allow someone to covertly finance something dangerous, do you? Now sign here so we can send your information to Washington's database.
The complaints lasted a short time and what once made us wary is now just accepted as part of doing business. It's the new normal and we're conditioned to accept it.
Government then decided it needs access to our personal communications. Our email, our social media, our movie and book rental history, even.
We complained. We asked "if we give up this portion of our rights, what's next?" We demanded to be treated like free people and not criminal suspects. We were told safety required it. We were told how these objections were unreasonable. It's not a big deal, after all; you won't even notice that someone else is looking in or tracking. It's not even an inconvenience and it's worth it.
You don't want a potential terrorist to be able to coordinate an attack online, do you? Or to learn at the library or on the web how to harm someone, do you? Now look the other way, snap that picture of your breakfast burrito, hit "submit" and stop worrying about it.
The complaints died down and what once gave us flashbacks to an Orwell novel is now just accepted as part of life. It's the new normal and we're conditioned to accept it.
But, America, since we demand safety, government wants to do more than just protect us from terrorists.
All over the nation, your purchase of a perfectly legal item must now be government approved and tracked.
Government in most states demanded that we turn over our identification to a complete stranger at a private business when we need medicine for our cold or allergies. That product is approved for sale on the shelves, but your purchase of it goes into a database even when there's no hint you have any part in a crime.
We complained. We asked "if we give up this portion of our rights, what's next?" We demanded to be treated like free people and not criminal suspects. We were told safety required it. We were told how these objections were unreasonable. It's not a big deal, after all; it only takes a second. It's only a small inconvenience and it's worth it.
You don't want a drug dealer to get another child hooked on meth, do you? Now let me see your I.D. for the tracking software.
The complaints washed away and what once insulted our very being isn't even noticed. It's the new normal and we're conditioned to accept it.
Oh, America, I could go on and on with example after example.
The pattern is generally the same. Something bad happens and We the People, along with a generally unthinking media, demand that government do something about it.
So, they do.
They respond with new rules, new demands for access to something about our personal lives and new requirements for government permission to do perfectly legal personal, financial, medical and even social things.
We complain. Maybe we toss in a quote or two from a "Founding Father", cite the Bill of Rights and demand our rights for a little while. Those who complain long enough are generally marginalized and eventually laughed at as "extremists" or as someone who is out of touch and on the "wrong side of history."
We're shown polling data that proves our demand for personal freedom and privacy isn't popular. It's really just a "common sense reform" to "close a loophole" so don't make a big deal out of it. Everyone else wants it after watching the cable news, so government is just responding to the will of the people. We live in a democracy, right? So just accept it because the majority wins (we actually don't live in a democracy- we live in a constitutional republic and there is a difference).
Still complaining? Then you must be alright with children being killed by bad guys. Those personal freedoms are out of date, anyway. Just give up a little and you'll get safety. Doesn't that make you feel better?
Oh sure, we trust you but you can't trust the guy next door and the rules have to be the same for everyone so, be a good citizen and hand over your bank account information, register your personal belongings and don't worry about what someone taps into and reads. It's just to make sure you're not dangerous and, well, you don't have anything to hide so don't worry about it.
In fact, don't even think about it.
These things happen during the tenures of both Republican and Democratic Presidents and at times when each party controls each chamber of Congress at some point. It's not about politics. I don't care if you are a conservative or a liberal or hold some other leaning.
This is about our culture. This is a mindset. This is about us as individuals within that culture.
So, America, here we are in 2013.
We've given up just a little bit of freedom over here for safety. We've given up just a little bit of privacy over there for security. We've given up a little more somewhere else because times have changed and that's just how things are in this age of terrorism, extremism, uncontrolled religion which could be dangerous and violent crime.
I ask you, America, where your decisions have led us. You can blame the politicians we elect, of course. I certainly do but we elect them. Ultimately, we are to blame if we have a government, once famously believed to be "...of the People, by the People, for the People...", that is no longer the servant but the unrestrained master.
Where has that led us? Well, from where I sit, it's led us to Boston in 2013. Ironically, the city that was the cradle of American freedom in the 1700's.
One or two government officials unilaterally ordered a "lock down" and hundreds - maybe thousands - of armed government personnel demanded complete access to homes, businesses and anything else someone had.
Image from the Huffington Post
What can reasonably be called at least a form of martial law was apparently not even controversial. Unquestioned compliance was demanded and given. It was maybe unsettling to some but it was accepted as just what had to be done. Everyone wanted to get the alleged bad guy.
No one seems to be complaining. But I'll ask: "If we give up this portion of our rights, what's next?"
I'm not directing this question to America's governments. That is not what the nation is. I'm asking for an answer from some important people. The people who are supposed to be in charge: you.
Are we conditioned to accept whatever we are told to do by someone in a uniform or with a political title? Have we accepted that trade of personal liberty for the promise of safety and security?
If so, the other end of the bargain was not delivered at the marathon several days ago. Is the answer to trade just a little more?
Or are we now at a point to question the direction we've gone thus far?
Remember, America, if you want to reclaim freedom and privacy, there is a risk. The world is a dangerous place. Bad people will still do bad things. With freedom comes responsibility and accountability for us all.
Do you want that or do you just not think about it and wait for orders?
I await your answer.