The Need To Speak Out In An Age Of Oppression

First, Cindy Sheehan was hauled away by the Capitol Police for wearing a t-shirt that said “2245 Dead. How Many More?� (The number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq is now up to 2290, by the way.) Then, one week later, Dwight Scarbrough—a Navy veteran currently employed as a scientist for a federal agency in Boise, Idaho—was called out of his place of work by two armed officers from the Department of Homeland Security and informed that the bumper stickers and placards on his truck were “a violation of the code of federal regulations� and that he would have to “remove the signs from the property� or be cited. What was on his truck?

On the back, he tapes weekly updates of the number of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq. Beneath that, on a large, white (and also taped-on) placard: “Support our returning troops and their families when they need help: Give them this number: GI RIGHTS HOTLINE: 1-800-394-9544.� On both doors, in bold capital letters: “DEATH IN IRAQ IS NOT A CAREER OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUNG AMERICANS.� Taking up nearly half of the back window: “Veterans for Peace Chapter 117, Idaho.� On the driver’s side wheel well, also in all caps: “PERHAPS GOD BLESSES EVERY NATION, NOT JUST THE USA.� And interspersed between them all, he places a variety of purchased bumper stickers and magnetic ribbons reading, among other sentiments, “Support our Troops: Bring them Home Now,� “Support Diversity� and “Honor Vets, Wage Peace.�

Dwight Scarbrough, like Cindy Sheehan before him, was understandably outraged at what he rightly perceived was intimidation and harassment for the political views he dared to publicly proclaim. To his credit, he did not simply give in to the DHS goons—though he did move his truck to a private parking lot for the day—and he did contact the ACLU and report the incident to the local media. (Boise Weekly provided excellent coverage of the story, which was later picked up by The Progressive.) To have two such incidents in such a short span of time is more than a little disturbing and begs a number of important questions. How often are citizens of this country being intimidated or censured for expressing dissent? What has happened that we don’t know about? To what degree, directly and indirectly, do such incidents serve to chill dissent? How much are we willing to accept and willing to lose before we speak out and say enough is enough? Will we wait too long?

I am reminded of the oft-quoted words of the German protestant leader, Martin Niemoeller:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.