I am in receipt of your letter marked as a second request to renew my membership. I am taking the time to tell you why I must decline. People for the American Way has lost its way. The true “American Way” insists on the rights of democracy upon which this country was founded. The fundamental right of a democracy is quite simply government by the people, of the people, and for the people.
The Founders recognized,”… that even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." Thomas Jefferson. Their tool for preventing a return to tyranny was an informed citizenry thereby empowered by such knowledge to maintain control over those they chose to represent them. “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe”. Thomas Jefferson.
The right of the People to be kept well informed was so important that a constitutionally protected right to a free press was expressly included in the Bill of Rights. The People's right to know is that essential to a self-governing nation: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Thomas Jefferson
"The ultimate authority ... resides in the people alone". James Madison. Our vote is the means by which we exercise that authority over our public servants - the government. It should go without saying that since elections are our mechanism for asserting our authority, the people are the only ones who must have authority over their own elections. Every citizen, as member of the collective masters in a democracy, has the responsibility to every other citizen to protect the integrity of the ballot. Each of us must strive to insure that all citizens are entitled to vote and that every vote is counted as cast. Once we permit the servant-government to control the counting of the vote, as we have under HAVA, We the People can no longer insure the integrity of our votes.
Historically we fulfilled our duty to our fellow citizens by watching over each other: members of different parties, members of the public, assuming joint responsibility for counting the votes by hand, in public, transparently. Our liberty, precious as it is, must be jealously guarded and trust alone has no place in this process.
Not only must we watch over each other, but we cannot relinquish this responsibility to government. Our rights are ours and are inalienable. As Thom Hartmann explains in his book, What Would Jefferson Do:
“The Founders knew that through most of the recent history of what we call civilization, rulers held rights and ordinary people held only privileges granted by those rulers. …The “new” idea of our Founders in 1776 was to throw off …. these tyrannies and replace them with democracy – people ruling themselves…..
At its core, it’s a very simple concept, an inversion of the pyramid. Instead of the government holding the rights and passing out privileges to people as it sees fit, the people would hold all the rights.” (p 15)
Hartmann goes on to emphasize that rights are not negotiable. They are absolute. They are forever. On the other hand, privileges are qualified rights which are granted and unlike rights, privileges can be taken away. In a democracy people may choose to form a government and give that government privileges.
“And those privileges would be granted – and could be revoked – by the sovereign action of the sole holders of the rights, We the People.” Thom Hartmann, What Would Jefferson Do.
The true 'American Way' therefore insists that our government protect our rights and when our government acts illegally, passing legislation that would rob us of our rights, we must insist that such laws be abolished.
I like hypotheticals. I think they clear the air. Let's take a right we can all agree on: the right of American citizens to be free from discriminatory treatment. Now let's say the Legislature determined, in its infinite wisdom, that the Homeland would be better protected if only those citizens -- whose great grandparents were born here, and had owned at least 25 acres of property or had acquired at least a million dollars of worth in their business ventures--could rise to the highest levels of industry, academia and government. We'll call the legislation HARA (the Help America Rise Act).
Keeping this hypothetical legislation consistent with the actual HAVA, it would have established a temporary federal commission (as HAVA created the EAC) so our hypothetical will include such a commission as well. Let's say HARA established a temporary commission to create a list of all those citizens who should be rejected from higher posts in industry, academia and government. Consistent with the actual HAVA, this commission would only exist to implement the legislation and then sunset. Let's call our hypothetical commission RAC (Rejection Assistance Commission).
As a result of HARA millions of Americans are demoted; losing status, power and income. Most of those affected are people of color, people of Italian and Irish descent, and Jews - effectively anyone whose family emigrated here in the last 100 years. In this hypothetical, the people who serve on the Rejection Assistance Commission are not very competent, as a result of which the list of rejects includes many whose great grandparents were born here and had acquired wealth or property.
Continuing the hypothetical, let's say some well intended Congressperson proposed a bill which PFAW vigorously supported, because having millions of Americans discriminated against would be devastating and no doubt PFAW would find "the status quo is unacceptable". The proposed hypothetical remedial legislation would soften the impact of HARA by only limiting from rising, those citizens who didn't have grandparents born here (the great grand parents requirement being seen as unnecessarily broad to protect the Homeland) and reducing the wealth requirement to 5 acres and/or a half million dollars.
Keeping the hypothetical consistent with what in fact Congressman Holt's bill proposes, the temporary federal commission, RAC, would become a permanent feature by which the executive branch could continue to deprive Americans of their constitutional rights. PFAW could certainly say such a bill "is a strong first step in that direction" of restoring our right to not be discriminated against on the basis of the color of our skin or our ethnicity or religion, but who amongst us would think that's good enough?
Just about everyone I know, including myself, would still be discriminated against. Is a "strong first step" from the servant-government charged with protecting our inalienable rights good enough? Not if the standard we're applying is "the American Way".
Under the American Way our rights are non-negotiable: Can't be compromised. We elected government to protect those rights and if the government can't do that, well the Declaration of Independence speaks to the appropriate remedy. The true American Way would never accept such remedial legislation that would in effect do nothing to restore our right to be free from such discrimination.
And yet PFAW and Congressman Holt argue that the Holt bill is the best compromise we can expect. I'm not saying compromise is never in order, but if you compromise on the right to secure all other rights, there's nothing left to compromise. It's over. 230 years of this experiment we called democracy, finished.
And while I'm writing the longest rejection to a request to renew my membership, I want to add one more very un-American Way that PFAW has behaved. Democracy requires robust public debate, discussion and respect for dissent. Indeed it is each citizen's responsibility:
"Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties . . . They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty . . . that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be the fundamental principle of the American government." Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice
PFAW, and I might add the Congressman whose legislation you so strongly advocate on behalf of, shun debate and discussion seeking to manipulate and control it in your interest. Calling yourself People for the American Way is a disgrace. So no, I will not be renewing my membership. Please stop sending me requests for same.
Very truly yours,
Andrea T. Novick, Esq.
New York, New York