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Original Political T-Shirts

Why I made the t-shirt "Protect Freedom... by taking it away"
[Yeah! an essay! I love to read!]

Nothing could be more UNPATRIOTIC than attacking the foundation of the United States: the CONSTITUTION. So it is ironic that legislation that cancels Constitutional freedoms is named the USA PATRIOT Act.

Following the September 11th tragedy in 2001, the dominant question in government and throughout American society has been "How can the United States and its allies be more secure from terrorism?" This question has spawned a philosophical debate regarding the interrelationship between freedom and security in society. The Bush Administration's War on Terrorism has decidedly favored greater security at the expense of freedom. The
(il)logic of these purportedly patriotic protectors of the United States seems to go as follows: what makes the United States great is the freedom its citizens enjoy, henceforth we will protect the United States by taking freedoms away from the American people. This meme of "Protect Freedom... by taking it away," is both horribly self contradictory and a major affront to the patriotic ideals of the founding fathers of the United States. How can you protect or preserve something by making it cease to exist? The US Government used similar (il)logic to justify the horrific violence (including an unprecedented bombardment campaign) it committed during the Vietnam War, and the massive loss of life that resulted: "destroy the village in order to save it."

The USA PATRIOT Act which passed nearly unanimously following the attacks on September 11th (and which was sadly not read by a great many of the senators and representatives who voted for it in the extreme climate of fear that existed at that time) was purportedly designed to increase security. Unfortunately, the security of the enshrined freedoms of the American people was decreased. Indeed, much of the Constitution and its Amendments were negated by the USA PATRIOT Act. As if this fact is not vile enough in itself, the name of this piece of sinister (however well intended or not) legislation ironically invokes the idea of patriotism. Nothing could be more unpatriotic than the evisceration of the foundation of the United States, its Constitution; and yet this piece of legislation is named the USA PATRIOT Act. It is perhaps fitting that legislation that is itself an exercise in doublethink ("Protect Freedom... by taking it away") should have such an Orwellian name.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US, stated unequivocally, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." His statement is powerful testimony that giving up freedom to protect it is not wise nor patriotic. If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, would John Ashcroft dare to tell him that his statement gives comfort to the enemy (as he is wont to do to those who question the prerogatives of the Bush Administration)? Given the behavior of Ashcroft and the rest of the Administration, of late, it seems quite possible that he would.

Additionally, it is unfortunate that news men like Tom Brokaw have seemingly ignored Franklin's historic rebuke of those willing to give up freedom for security. Brokaw and his mainstream media mates have ignored their duty as citizens according to another of Franklin's proverbs: "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority." Instead, Brokaw and his ilk favor rhetorically asking the American people if giving up a little freedom for security is not acceptable. The conclusion of these "objective" news men and women often seems to be an outright, or at least implied, acceptance of the practice of trading freedom for security. This acceptance is bolstered by a lot of talk of new challenges and necessities in a "post 9/11 world", and echoes the Bush Administration's position. Perhaps, too, it indirectly asserts that the advice of Franklin and other founders does not apply to present day circumstances. However, the fatuosity (smug ignorance) and thereby the complicity of the mainstream media elite is the subject of a different t-shirt ("Tom Brokaw is Full of Shit") that I made, and is described more fully in my explanation of why I made that t-shirt.

In conclusion, I made this t-shirt because I wanted to challenge the dominant meme (or idea) in society that suggests that you can "Protect Freedom... by taking it away." I decided that the best means to do so would be to display the (il)logic itself, and allow the cognitive dissonance that arises (in the minds of most human beings with a heartbeat) to do what it will. That is, I decided to present an image so ominous and contradictory to itself, that most people would be, at first, repulsed by it. I did so knowing that it would linger in their minds and that they would be compelled to reconsider its meaning by their own curiosity.

The high contrast, Orwellian image on the shirt--of, not one but, four surveillance cameras on a single pole (in near nazi-swastika-ish perpendicularity)--stands against a propaganda red backdrop. I chose the image of surveillance cameras because there is a parallel contemporary debate about whether they protect us or instead restrict us by chilling people's behavior--including non-criminal behavior--thus making us less free. The shirt design is calculated to disturb those who see it. However, the design anticipates this initial disturbance, and intends for the image to be reevaluated upon realization that the initial, face value, interpretation of the image is ridiculous due to the illogic of the phrase "Protect Freedom... by taking it away." Furthermore, those who see the design are intended to perceive its satirical nature, and thus the message which it exclaims loudly: "You canNOT protect America by removing its foundation, the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. You canNOT protect freedom by taking it away."

While a good many people realize all this on their own and do not require prompting, there are certainly some who can profit from the prompting that this t-shirt is intended to provide. Further, even those who realize all this already can use a satirical restatement of what this society's leaders are currently saying in order to motivate them to resist, if only by laughing at the satire that this t-shirt design provides.

November 2006 update: Now we have the Military Commision Act of 2006
According to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, "With his signature, President Bush enacts a law that is both unconstitutional and un-American. This president will be remembered as the one who undercut the hallmark of habeas corpus in the name of the war on terror. Nothing separates America more from our enemies than our commitment to fairness and the rule of law, but the bill signed today is an historic break because it turns Guantánamo Bay and other U.S. facilities into legal no-man's-lands.

"The president can now - with the approval of Congress - indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions. Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act."

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  • Electronic Frontier Foundation - EFF is a nonprofit group of passionate people — lawyers, technologists, volunteers, and visionaries — working to protect your digital rights. WWW.EFF.ORG
  • Defending Dissent - It origins go back to the 1960's and HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Commission that was formed to repress dissidents during the height of the cold war). This organization is still dedicated to defending the right of political dissent. WWW.DEFENDINGDISSENT.COM
  • ACLU - The flagship civil liberties defense group in the USA. WWW.ACLU.ORG