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TCL > September 2002 Issue > Speak Up For Freedom

September 2002       Vol. 31, No. 9       Page  23
Features
CBA President's Message to Members

Speak Up For Freedom
by John E. Moye

Last September, my stepdaughter Alexis was living in Brooklyn, New York. The balcony of her apartment had a view of the New York skyline and, particularly, the World Trade Center. On September 11, she witnessed one of the most horrible tragedies ever to strike this country. She watched the planes hit the buildings and watched the smoke billow over Manhattan. She watched the Twin Towers collapse and anxiously awaited word of friends who worked in the area. She tried to volunteer to help the injured. There was a waiting list for volunteers, and the blood banks had adequate supplies—unfortunately—because there were very few victims who could be helped by transfusions.

September 11th Quilt Project

Alexis was inspired to devote her energy to a project she called the September 11th Quilt Project. She looked at this as an opportunity for people to contribute a lasting and personal piece of themselves to the memory of the victims, as a testament to America’s determination to rebuild, and to never forget. She set about to collect individual patches or panels of cloth from all over the world from anyone who wanted to contribute. She formed a non-profit corporation1 and invited contributors to design panels to express their feelings about the World Trade Center disaster and to confirm the unity of the American people against terrorism and their commitment to freedom. The panels would then be sewn to a huge American flag with stars dotted with the flags of each state and the panels arrayed on the stripes.

The panels that were submitted contain creative and emotional responses, as simple as line drawings from young Girl Scouts to complicated and beautifully quilted depictions of the New York skyline, with emotional messages such as: "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." One 7-year-old girl created a patch that shows King Kong standing between the Twin Towers holding back the airplanes with each hand and the caption: "If Only."

For the past twelve months, Alexis and my wife, Pam, have collected the patches, enlisted a squad of volunteer friends and a commercial clothing manufacturer to sew the patches on the enormous stripes and create a flag that now measures 60´ x 120´—nearly one-third the size of a football field.

On July 4th, Alexis, her mother, and I traveled to New York where this enormous work in progress had been transported by a volunteer Florida transport company. We and several of Alexis’s friends from New York spent the Independence Day holiday assembling the flag in Union Square, a few blocks away from Ground Zero, and displaying this now proud monument to the citizens of New York. Their response was overwhelming. The firefighters from the New York Fire Department-Union Station-Ladder 14 rolled out the stripes and the patches as another friend sang the Star Spangled Banner. As the firemen looked up after the stripes had been unrolled, tears were streaming down their faces.

The entire experience was incredibly moving. Many of the visitors to the flag were New Yorkers who had lost friends or family in the tragedy. Some of them had submitted panels to the project. Tourists who were visiting New York for the holiday also viewed the display somberly. To all who observed the flag, it was recognized as a tribute to patriotism and a unifying memorial testament to the victims and families who suffered through the September 11th disaster.

Alexis found her way to speak up, and to give others a chance to speak up—to say that the people of this country will never forget this tragedy. They have artfully asserted that the freedom that this country stands for is the most important value we can preserve.

Dealing With Terrorism

As we approach the anniversary of September 11, the aftermath of the tragedy has produced a myriad of suggestions and proposed legislation to improve security and to deal swiftly with suspected supporters of terrorism. National security has been strengthened significantly. The "War on Terrorism" purportedly requires a swift determination of guilt or innocence and summary and effective punishment of suspected terrorists. Public sentiment to various approaches to security and justice have been debated at all levels of government and the press. The possibility of racial and religious profiling and the abandonment of the basic principles of due process are among the significant issues that have been raised during the past year.

Now, more than ever, we must protect the freedoms that the perpetrators of the September 11 disaster struck out against. That I can write this column and that you can read it and that I can say anything I want and you can respond in kind are incredibly important rights in this society. The fact that my stepdaughter Alexis can freely solicit our citizens to express their sorrow, respect, indignation, and patriotism is something she takes for granted—as we all should!

As the pendulum swings away from the shock and horror of the World Trade Center disaster and toward government intervention into private rights, the legal profession needs to be more vigilant than ever to ensure that basic principles of due process and privacy are respected for all who are entitled to them. If there are suspected terrorists in our midst or traveling on our airlines, we certainly want our government to find them, capture them, and punish them. But, we don’t want our innocent citizens to be subjected to undue surveillance, loss of privacy, profiling, and suspicion in the name of national security or military justice.

Stephen Rohde, the author of American Words of Freedom,2 recently wrote a modern paraphrase of the words of Reverend Martin Niemoller in his famous poem concerning Nazi Germany in 1937.

First they came for the Muslims and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Muslim.

Then they came for the immigrants detaining them indefinitely solely upon the certification of the Attorney General and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an immigrant.

Then they came to eavesdrop on suspects consulting with their attorneys and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a suspect.

Then they came to prosecute non-citizens before secret military commissions and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a non-citizen.

Then they came to enter homes and offices for unannounced "sneak and peak" searches and I didn’t speak up because I had nothing to hide.

Then they came to reinstate Cointelpro and resume the infiltration and surveillance of domestic religious and political groups and I didn’t speak up because I no longer participated in any groups.

Then they came for anyone who objected to government policy because it only aided the terrorists and gave ammunition to America’s enemies and I didn’t speak up . . . because I didn’t speak up.

Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.3

The members of the legal profession are the guardians of the rule of law and the preservation of individual freedoms. We have the ability and training to speak up against denial of due process, loss of privacy, and undue intrusions on our freedom whenever and wherever they are manifested. In memory of all who lost their lives in the September 11th disaster and to ensure that our children, like Alexis, are always able to express themselves and to move and act freely in this country, let us commit to speak up whenever necessary to preserve these principles we hold so dear.

NOTES

1. Information about the September 11th Quilt Project can be obtained at www.september11quiltproject.org.

2. Rohde, American Words of Freedom (Webster’s New World, 2001).

3. Rohde, "Then They Came For Me," Vol. 8, No. 3 Verdict (2002). Mr. Rohde is the immediate Past-President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and is the President-Elect of the Beverly Hills Bar Association. His poem is published with his permission.

© 2002 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2002.


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