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"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have
any."-- Alice Walker
*THE LIST: American Tears*
By Naomi Wolf
Posted October 11, 2007 | 06:47 PM (EST)
I wish people would stop breaking into tears when they talk to me these days.
I am traveling across the country at the moment -- Colorado to California --
speaking to groups of Americans from all walks of life about the assault on
liberty and the 10 steps now underway in America to a violently closed society.
The good news is that Americans are already awake: I thought there would be
resistance to or disbelief at this message of gathering darkness -- but I am
finding crowds of people who don't need me to tell them to worry; they are
already scared, already alert to the danger, and entirely prepared to hear what
the big picture might look like. To my great relief, Americans are smart and
brave and they are unflinching in their readiness to hear the worst and take
action. And they love their country.
But I can't stand the stories I am hearing. I can't stand to open my email
days. And wherever I go, it seems, at least once a day, someone very strong
starts to cry while they are speaking.
In Boulder, two days ago, a rosy-cheeked thirtysomething mother of two small
children, in soft yoga velours, started to tear up when she said to me: "I want
to take action, but I am so scared. I look at my kids and I am scared. How do
you deal with fear? Is it safer for them if I act or stay quiet? I don't want
to get on a list." In D.C., before that, a beefy, handsome civil servant, a
government department head -- probably a Republican -- confides in a lowered
voice that he is scared to sign the new I.D. requirement for all government
employees, that exposes all his most personal information to the State -- but he
is scared not to sign it: "If I don't, I lose my job, my house. It's like the
German National I.D. card," he said quietly. This morning, in Denver, I talked
for almost an hour to a brave, much-decorated high-level military man who is not
only on the watch list for his criticism of the administration -- his family is
now on the list. His elderly mother is on the list. His teenage son is on the
list. He has flown many dangerous combat missions over the course of his
military career, but his voice cracks when he talks about the possibility that
is exposing his children to harassment.
Jim Spencer, a former columnist for the Denver Post who has been critical of the
Bush administration, told me today that I could use his name: he is on the watch
list. An attorney contacts me to say that she told her colleagues at the
Department not to torture a detainee; she says she then faced a criminal
investigation, a professional referral, saw her emails deleted -- and now she is
on the watch list. I was told last night that a leader of Code Pink, the
anti-war women's action group, was refused entry to Canada. I hear from a tech
guy who works for the airlines -- again, probably a Republican -- that, once you
are on the list, you never get off. Someone else says that his friend opened
luggage to find a letter from the T.S.A. saying that they did not appreciate his
reading material. Before I go into the security lines, I find myself editing my
possessions. In New York's LaGuardia, I reluctantly found myself putting a
hardcover copy of Tara McKelvey's excellent "Monstering," an expose of C.I.A.
interrogation practices, in a garbage can before I get in the security line; it
is based on classified information. This morning at my hotel, before going to
the airport, I threw away a very nice black T-shirt that said "We Will Not be
Silenced" -- with an Arabic translation -- that someone had given me, along with
a copy of poems written by detainees at Guantanamo.
In my America, we are not scared to get in line at the airport. In my America,
we will not be silenced.
More times than I can count, courageous and confident men who are telling me
about speaking up, but who are risking what they see as the possible loss of
home or the ability to pay for grown kids' schooling, start to choke up.
Yesterday, a woman in one gathering started to cry simply while talking about
degradation of her beloved country.
And always the questions: what do we do?
It is clear from this inundation of personal stories of abuse and retribution
against ordinary Americans that a network of criminal behavior and intention is
catching up more and more mainstream citizens in its grasp. It is clear that
this is not democracy as usual -- or even the corruption of democracy as usual.
It is clear that we will need more drastic action than emails to Congress.
The people I am hearing from are conservatives and independents, as well as
progressives. The cardinal rule of a closing or closed society is that your
alignment with the regime offers no protection; in a true police state no one is
I read the news in a state of something like walking shock: seven soldiers wrote
op-eds critical of the war -- in The New York Times; three are dead, one shot in
the head. A female soldier who was about to become a whistleblower, possibly
about abuses involving taxpayers' money: shot in the head. Pat Tillman, who was
contemplating coming forward in a critique of the war: shot in the head. Donald
Vance, a contractor himself, who blew the whistle on irregularities involving
arms sales in Iraq -- taken hostage FROM the U.S. Embassy BY U.S. soldiers and
kept without recourse to a lawyer in a U.S. held-prison, abused and terrified
weeks -- and scared to talk once he got home. Another whistleblower in Iraq, as
reported in Vanity Fair: held in a trailer all night by armed contractors before
being ejected from the country.
Last week contractors, immune from the rule of law, butchered 17 Iraqi civilians
in cold blood. Congress mildly objected -- and contractors today butcher two
more innocent civilian Iraqi ladies -- in cold blood.
It is clear yet that violent retribution, torture or maybe worse, seems to go
right up this chain of command? Is it clear yet that these people are capable
anything? Is it obvious yet that criminals are at the helm of the nation and
need to be not only ousted but held accountable for their crimes?
Is it treason yet?
This is an open invitation to honorable patriots on the Right and in the center
to join this movement to restore the rule of law and confront this horror: this
is not conservatism, it is a series of crimes against the nation and against the
very essence of America. Join us, we need you.
This movement must transcend partisan lines. The power of individual conscience
is profound when people start to wake up.
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey said "No": he told colleagues that
they would be ashamed when the world learned about the Administration's
warrantless wiretapping. A judge today ruled that the U.S. can't just ship
prisoners out of Guantanamo to be tortured at will -- she said 'No.' The Center
for Constitutional Rights is about to file a civil lawsuit -- against
they are saying 'No.'
In Germany, according to historian Richard Evans, in 1931~1932, if enough
of conscience had begun to say 'No' -- history would have had an entirely
If we go any further down this road the tears will be those of conservatives as
well as progressives. They will be American tears.
The time for weeping has to stop; the time for confronting must begin.
[Naomi Wolf was born in San Francisco in 1962. She was an undergraduate at Yale
University and did her graduate work at New College, Oxford University as a
Her essays have appeared in various publications including: The New
Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Ms., Esquire, The Washington Post, and The New
Times. She also speaks widely to groups across the country.
"The Beauty Myth," her first book, was an international bestseller. She
followed that with "Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change
The 21st Century," published by Random House in 1993, and "Promiscuities: The
Secret Struggle for Womanhood," published in 1997. "Misconceptions," released in
2001, is a powerful and passionate critique of pregnancy and birth in America.
In 2002, Harper Collins published a 10th anniversary commemorative edition of
"The Beauty Myth."
Ms. Wolf's latest book, released in May of 2005, is "The Treehouse:
Wisdom from my Father on How to Live, Love, and See."
Naomi Wolf is co-founder of the Board of The Woodhull Institute for Ethical
Leadership, an organization devoted to training young women in ethical
for the 21st century. The institute teaches professional development in the
and media, politics and law, business, and entrepreneurship as well as ethical
She lives with her family in New York City.]
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