We, the people

By Yousef Munayyer

“We, the people.” Do you ever think about that? These first three words of the document that is the cornerstone of the American republic signify unity, democracy and a collective respect of the rights of man.

We, the people, of the United States of America, live in a society that is supposed to be free from oppression and has guaranteed rights. These rights were so important that the founders of this nation refused to compromise on the Constitution unless these rights were specifically spelled out and guaranteed to every citizen in the nation.

We, the people, work, study and live in a nation that is at the peak of world power. The leader of the free world and the beacon of “democracy.”

We, the people, listened to Gov. George W. Bush, at the time of the second presidential debate in Michigan, speak out against the use of “secret evidence.” It was these stances that lead the American Muslim Political Action Coalition to endorse Bush that year. Ironic isn’t it?

We, the people, have been lied to.

We, the people, have been given rights and had them taken away.

We, the people, are being spied on.

We, the people, don’t seem to care.

Do we care? That is the question. When the government passes legislation to strengthen the powers of the Justice Department to the point where just cause is thrown out the window, can we stand aside and say nothing?

Many congressmen admit they didn’t even read most of the USA PATRIOT Act. Were they acting in the interest of “we, the people”?

The USA PATRIOT Act, TIA (Total Information Awareness), PATRIOT ACT II and the general attitude of those in power, with regards to our civil liberties and rights, is appalling.

When you use your credit card, write an e-mail, check out a library book or write a column for the paper, do not doubt that the government may be watching. These acts, which tear apart the fabric of this republic, allow for government agencies, like the FBI, to spy on you without reasonable cause or just suspicion.

Let’s say you write a letter to the editor criticizing the government. Or maybe you buy a book at a local bookstore about the history of American foreign policy. Maybe you spend too much time or money at the wrong restaurant or coffee shop. Maybe you pray at a mosque. If you do any of these things, the aforementioned legislation empowers the spying to begin. Whether you are an American citizen or not, pay your taxes or not, say the pledge or not, live in Texas or not, you have just fallen under the crosshairs of the Justice Department and any rights you thought you had went out the window.

Does this sound like the “land of the free” to you?

The President of the United States addressed the nation and the world after 9/11 and said that we were attacked by terrorists who hate our freedoms. If there is any truth to this, I ask, why is it that this administration has initiated the greatest onslaught on our personal freedoms in the history of this nation? If it is truly our freedoms they are jealous of and want to attack, aren’t we letting them win by putting “we, the people” under Big Brother’s microscope?

Many people come to this nation because they do not enjoy these liberties elsewhere and the United States has built a reputation across the globe, particularly in the 20th century, of being a nation that would accept refugees who were fleeing authoritarian regimes. Now, here in the United States, those who thought they would be free are once again the center of suspicion.

When talking about this issue, many tend to quote Benjamin Franklin because he rightly said: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This speaks to the very heart of the matter at hand. We, the people, in our silence, are watching the liberties, which were once actually fought for, slip away.

The talking heads will tell you that our troops are overseas fighting to defend our freedom. Yet al-Qaeda isn’t the group who is tearing the Bill of Rights into shreds.

Franklin made an even more pertinent comment. Upon the completion of the Constitution, when asked what he thought, he responded: “It’s a republic if we can keep it.”

What do you see when you look at the American flag? I try to think about the founding of this nation, about those who fought to establish a republic that would set a standard for centuries, and about the rights that citizens have here.

What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be part of “we, the people?” It means opposing any attack on our personal freedoms. It means it is your duty to speak out against the destruction of our rights. It means reminding the nation that “inalienable” rights are just that: rights that cannot be taken away from men. It means standing in opposition to legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act. It means believing that this is your republic and it is your job to “keep it.”

Most importantly it means it’s time to stand together as “we, the people” so that we will never become “we, the prisoners.”

Yousef Munayyer is a Collegian columnist.

900 words

Photo Bendee: Yousef Munayyer

Pull Quote: “We, the people, have been lied to. We, the people, have been given rights and had them taken away. We, the people, are being spied on. We, the people, don’t seem to care.”