By Mumia Abu-Jamal

[Col. Writ. 3/29/04]

It's in the air, as thick as molasses on a wintry Vermont morn.

Like a pungent, disagreeable odor that assaults the nose in the morning, only to be forgotten (although it's still present!) by nightfall, this thing that's in the air hasn't disappeared, nor dissipated.

It's still there; the only thing that has changed, is us.

That thing is fear.

Americans are afraid; and worse, they are afraid of being seen as afraid.

The nation's political leaders have O.D.'d on this fear, and like Saturday night drunks, have gone off on the fumes into fits and flights of fancy, like the so-called PATRIOT Act. I remember, staring in disbelief, as politicians, -- yeah, even Black politicians -- admitted on TV that they voted on the Act, and had not read it! They felt pressured to do so by the US Justice Department.

Politicians, driven by the demon of fear, sacrificed their oaths of office on the altar of expediency.

Like perhaps many others, I waited, virtually in vain, to hear the voices of dissent raised at this, and other acts of state, like the military tribunals.

I knew this wasn't really a democracy (most Blacks who've lived a little'll tell you this), but to see the Administration erect the tribunals, in violation of American legal precedent, and in the face of international law, seemed like handwriting on the wall of where America is headed; and it ain't pretty.

A part of me knew that it was fear; and another part of me saw the political opportunism lying below, like a gator in the everglades; waiting for the moment to snap.

How else can one begin to explain the Red Scare, the Palmer Raids early last century, the placement of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, the persecution of dissidents and radicals during the COINTELPRO period, and the mad dash for incarceration of the '80s, '90s, and now?

Those social injustices were made possible because the government utilized fear to mobilize people against vast sections of the population, immigrants, workers, Jews, Japanese, socialists, Blacks, anti-war activists, and students ... you name it. All of these people, for the most part so-called 'citizens' of America, were treated as enemies of the state, simply because they were protesting the repressive status quo -- something allegedly protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the 1st Amendment.

But these types of tragic episodes were only possible in this country because those Constitutional guarantees were meant for those who wrote them in, and their class, the well-to-do, the propertied, the established, not the vast majority of the people in this country. Why else would people have to struggle, for years, for decades, indeed, for centuries, to get some grudging acknowledgment that Blacks, that women (the majority of the population, mind you!), that working poor, that national minorities, like Japanese, were included in the meaning of the documents?

And still, today, the political tool is useful; to bring back draconian measures that seem unfit for a nation that claims to be a democracy; that claims to be a protector of human rights.

With fear steering the country, anything is possible, all in the name of a bogus 'war against terrorism', that seeks to plunge the nation into a new dark age of desperation.

The history of this country has always been one of swinging pendulums, between forces for democracy, and forces of reaction and repression. That's the real history. It is the history of the powerless fighting against the privileges of the powerful. It is a history of the many fighting against the prerogatives of the few.

It is still going on, and mindless, cringing fear will only mark an end; not a beginning.

copyright 2004 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
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