Lead Balloons

By Williams, Patricia J. | The Nation, August 2, 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Lead Balloons

Williams, Patricia J., The Nation

I'm riding an elevator in downtown Boston. There is a sign warning of travel restrictions during the last week of July. A woman gets on. We both stare ahead as per elevator etiquette. She reads the sign, raises an elegant hand and brushes the words gently. "Nothing's worth this ...," she sighs. I laugh sympathetically; she gets off at the next floor.

Yet nothing's more worth this, I think into the empty elevator.

I'm in Boston for the time being, visiting my parents and watching the city ready itself for the Democratic National Convention. Tom Ridge is reportedly in town, overseeing security arrangements. Roadblocks are going up over a thirty-mile radius, some subway stations will be closed, and "chem-packs" have been distributed to emergency workers. Fresh-faced policemen in crisp uniforms are everywhere, good-daying people, affecting an alert but casual stroll. It feels like the Fourth of July and Y2K bundled into one great knot of excitement and pure dread--a mood suspended between civic pride and who's-idea-was-this-anyway, between stocking up on gas masks and fleeing to the Cape.

I'm staying put, because my parents can't travel just now and besides, I don't like the idea of everyone backing away so fearfully from a fundamental part of our self-governance. It takes bravery to participate actively in any democracy, when you come right down to it. We have lost some of our sense of the centrality of the electoral process in the years since the height of the civil rights movement; we have grown more cynical, perhaps, some might say more corrupt, and now, most certainly, afraid. I consider myself lucky to have been reminded constantly of the necessity of resoluteness by so many of my international students, from South Africa, from Croatia, from Poland, from China--all of whom speak of the American civil rights movement as impetus in their bit of the global quest for equality and political participation. And so I go about my business, refusing to flee to the suburbs, hoping that our big, noisy political contests will not yet turn into closeted events high atop mountains, like Davos.

If the threat of terrorism were not enough, both the Democratic and Republican national conventions will be important testing grounds for civil liberties. New rules purport to allow searches of subway riders without probable cause. And as lots of groups (including the policemen's union) line up for permits to rally and picket, large numbers of others call into talk-radio programs, denouncing dissent as dangerous. Gathering "collectively" is made to sound so threatening, so un-American.

Indeed, under the USA Patriot Act, civil disobedience is actually conflated with terrorism. Section 802 defines domestic terrorism as including any acts of social protest or dissent that "involve acts dangerous to human life" and that violate "the criminal laws of the United States or of any state" with intent to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" or "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" or "affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping." Note that the disjunctives--the placement of the "or" s--mean that assassination and kidnapping carry the same weight as intimidation in defining a "terrorist.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Lead Balloons


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?