Book review: Human Rights start at home

March 9, 2012

Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First Century America, by Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler. The New Press, 2011. (Buy.)

Somewhere lurking in our imaginations we carry a picture of ourselves responding to a rap at the door to be bullied by agents of the FBI.  Fantasy is nurtured by films like the Bourne series.  It is made real by reports of government violating privacy and free speech.  While we want to dismiss the news as exceptional and the films as fantasy, we carry a dread that saps our willingness to say no to government. Hell No brings fantasy to reality and the exceptional to common practice with its long catalogs of what the protectors of our security do to our rights of speech and dissent. More important, Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler work to counter that debilitating dread that may silence us.

As each of us reads this book, the threat becomes real, even personal.  The government has targeted Quakers and animal rights activitists in its efforts to stem the terrorist threat.  I am a Quaker in part as witness against our descent into a warrior society.  My mother in her last years gave money to protect animals from inhumane treatment.  Neither of us ever considered that we consorted with terrorists.

The authors catalog a list of police tactics and with each recommend responses.  If innovations in communications enable dissenters to organize, those technologies open the door for snoops.  For example, legal restraints that apply to telephone lines do not extend to cell phones, and the police jump to take advantage of the difference.   How to respond to the rap at the door?  Advice is provided.

For moments we may imagine that Margaret Attwood’s fantasy of America is becoming real.  Read this book.  Support the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Join your local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.  And say no.

After teaching history at Southern Illinois University, Michael Batinski volunteered for a year at The Meeting School in New Hampshire. He is part of ALBA’s faculty for high school teachers.