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"for a day. or a lifetime."

More than ever-

a time to speak out
by Matt Leonard


Originally appeared in Dovetail #1

On many issues that radicals take a stance on (opposing the WTO, capitalism, authority, racism, war, homophobia etc), we can generally take our positions, argue our points, and not see our lives turned completely upside-down. We may have an unpopular idea, may get laughed at, or ostracized, or picked on – but by and large we can still live our lives. But in the current “crusade” (to quote George W.) against “any and all terrorists” (well, at least those that aren’t approved by the US government), the mindless, patriotic fervor all around us has drawn some frightening reactions to a lot of ideas – a lot of ideas that I (and many of you) may hold.

For Katie Sierra, a 15 year-old high school student in West Virginia – her commitment to her values, and her unrelenting demand to voice those values has turned her life upside-down. She's become the subject of national media attention after her high school suspended her for voicing anti-war sentiments and her desire to start a student anarchist club. She was suspended for three days in October for defying school orders not to form an anarchy club and for wearing T-shirts that include slogans opposing the U.S. war on Afghanistan. The shirts that prompted her expulsion included the slogans: “Racism, Sexism, Homophobia..I'm so proud of the people in the land of the so called "Free” and ``When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America."

While school administrators suspended her – on the basis that her shirts “disrupted the learning process” – other students reportedly wore shirts depicting gun targets on Osama Bin Laden, American flags, and numerous pro-war statements – yet they received no response from the administration. Katie took her case to court – citing violations of the 1st amendment, and describing in detail how administrators directly told her that they objected to the content of her speech, and felt “Anarchy is the antithesis of what we believe should be in schools”. While the local county circuit court upheld the schools decision (this should come as no surprise being in conservative West Virginia), Katie and her lawyer are looking at pushing her case to the federal level – to the Supreme Court if need be.

Perhaps this gross violation of our constitutional rights should come as no surprise right now. With the recent passage of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. act, coupled with the mass hysteria and mindless patriotism being fostered by the Bush administration and the corporate media – our civil liberties are simply being seen as an obstacle that needs to be danced around. Law enforcement agencies are taking advantage of this situation to increase their powers into people’s lives and homes, never stopping to consider that our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties aren’t randomly created “obstacles” – but are actual laws that are there for good reasons.

This hysteria needs to stop – and the public needs to develop some critical thinking, and be able to deal with these issues rationally. Yes, terrorism is real, and it’s something we can’t ignore. But there are many ways to address these issues, and instantly resorting to violence and legislating away at little freedom we have isn’t a part of the solution. Alterative views, ideas, perspectives, and solutions need to be discussed at every level. Not just among lawmakers and politicians (and the corporations they cater to) – but amongst the general public – students, workers, and families. Our ability to have these discussions is being threatened, and we need to make sure we take every opportunity we have to make alternative ideas heard.

Every time we back down and don’t put our voices, our opinions, and our dissent out there to the public – we’re allowing the status quo to go unchallenged. We can talk to each other how much we oppose the war on Afghanistan, oppose racism, oppose homophobia, or oppose our school policies – but we have to find the strength to make our voices heard by the everyday people around us- parents, teachers, peers, bosses, and the strangers on the street. As each one of us speaks out – we will encourage others to not be afraid to speak out either –as they see the support of people around them, and as we build a culture that is willing to engage in critical discussion.

Unpopular opinions, on any topic, are always difficult to hold. Being someone who went through school with what seemed like the always-unpopular opinion (I listened to punk music, had pink hair, didn’t do what I was told, and constantly challenged authority), I was forced to really evaluate and defend my opinions and actions constantly. It was hard, but looking back, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Seeing how many of my old friends are still struggling to find their identity, and have so little understanding about how the world around them works – I know that standing up for what I felt was right, and dealing with all the shit that comes with it made me a fuller, freer person. Be prepared to fight to make your voice heard – but be assured that the fight is worth it.