the freedom pendulum swings around the globe

Editorial cc&d, April 22, 2004, v. 135

Janet Kuypers

    To visit a friend and to see the amazing historical sights, we decided to take a trip to China. We looked back over our lives — we were raised knowing that we couldn’t trade with China, that they were so violently Communistic that we would never be able to experience their culture or their history first-hand. So we stopped listening to AM talk radio, hearing about how the U.S. government could search flight records for potential terrorist activity, to head to the other side of the globe and see how the other side of the planet — and the other political side of the coin — functioned.
    Now, I have to remind myself that I was seeing urban areas, Beijing and Shanghai, and that I was not witnessing the destitution of the rural expanses of China ... I have to remind myself of that because it was so much like the United States that I could forget. Corporate monoliths like Starbuck’s and McDonald’s were on every corner. People driving on the roads and on bicycles were more demonic than the city streets in the United States. Surrounded by skyscrapers and a ton of construction for the development of the city, the only thing that reminded me that I wasn’t on an American street was the fact that no one anywhere spoke English. Other than seeing signs in the street written in Chinese and not English, it was amazingly comfortable to manage in Shanghai.
    While taking a flight to Beijing, we read an English newspaper (the Shanghai Daily, March 9 2004), whose main headline was “Historic Progress Hailed in constitutional amendments.” The draft amendment to China’s constitution went over the inviolability of private property. The Shanghai Daily article even stated that “the constitutional amendment is also expected to enshrine human rights protection.” I even kept this paper, so I could have written record of the expansion of rights given to the people of China. This story seemed to mark a remarkable time in history.
    It was remarkable because I saw the inverse happening to us in the United States. I thought about John losing unemployment benefits because the U.S. government saw (by searching flight records) that he flew to Puerto Rico, which is outside of the United States; in other words, a weekend trip cost John his unemployment benefits. I also heard that the U.S. government wanted to access anyone’s hospital records to be able to search for people who had abortions.
    The Patriot Act was passed six weeks after 9/11. We know now that it greatly changed the balance between liberty and security in this nation’s framework. Now the Domestic Security Enhancement Act is a draft for the sweeping expansion of Anti-Terrorism Act — and one of the provisions in here (if I’ve got this right) is that the government could actually strip citizenship from someone if — for example, if you were found making what you thought was a legitimate contribution to some non profit organization. People can argue about the “favorability” of particular non-profit organizations (that some non profit organizations are fronts for terrorist groups).
    All I know is that I see that we’re walking on a slippery slope; once we’ve abandoned some rights, we can lose them all. And in China they are working to give their people more rights. It’s amazing how the pendulum can swing from China’s side of the globe to our own to change how everyone can look at the world.



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