My religious tradition does not have a counterpart to the Christian concept of’ ‘witness,’ but as I understand it, witnessing implies an obligation to stand up for righteousness and truth. To bear witness is to speak out against injustice, to call attention to wrongs, be they civic or moral. It is an effort to bring us back to first principles.
My religious tradition does not have a counterpart to the Christian concept of “witness,” but as I understand it, witnessing implies an obligation to stand up for righteousness and truth. To bear witness is to speak out against injustice, to call attention to wrongs, be they civic or moral. It is an effort to bring us back to “first principles.”
America always needs witnesses—people who are willing to speak truth to power, willing to remind us that we are a great country because we are a good country. While it is true that we have been blessed with natural resources, people do not risk their lives coming here for our coal or timber. We are a beacon for immigrants because our ideals appeal to people of many backgrounds and nationalities, and because more often than not we have lived up to them. Our greatest national resource is our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Right now, that resource is threatened. Not by Islamic fundamentalists, but by our own fears and by those who would use those fears to gain more power than our system would otherwise allow them.
First there was the “USA Patriot Act,” which granted the FBI and Justice Department broad and troubling new powers. Then it was the “Homeland Security Act,” which, in the name of Presidential “flexibility,” strips government workers of the job security that might embolden whistle-blowing, and authorizes massive new intrusions upon our right to privacy. And now, in the wake of the mid-term election, the Administration is openly making plans to pack the federal courts with judges who will prefer the state to its citizens; judges who will uphold the power of government, allowing it to ignore treaties, hold “suspects” indefinitely, decide whether citizens should have information and whether women should reproduce. This Administration talks a lot about “traditional values.” But its agenda puts it squarely in conflict with the traditional American value of individual liberty—not to mention the traditional value of not invading counties that haven’t attacked us.
This is a time that cries out for witnesses, and we are beginning to see some emerge in the media (where one might argue that witnessing is the job description). Even William Safire, a pundit not noted for civil libertarian tendencies, has written scathingly about the “Homeland Security Act,” which he has called “the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every citizen.”
In contrast, Congressional protests have been muted. Perhaps lawmakers are afraid that less-than-enthusiastic support of war and police-state security measures will translate into fewer votes. Their complicity is not shared, however, by Indianapolis Congresswoman Julia Carson.
In the best, most honorable tradition of witnessing, Carson has introduced a Resolution to place Congress on record as recognizing United States’ treaty obligations and acknowledging its responsibility to obey the United States Constitution “which each member has sworn an oath to uphold.”
It won’t pass, but it is a timely reminder from one woman who has never been afraid to speak truth to power.