Shredding Ashcroft

Let's hear it for America's librarians! The old stereotype of librarians as meek maidens whose only passion is for the Dewey decimal system never was true, but now that image is being shattered for good, replaced by a new image of librarians as feisty fighters for freedom.

Who is it that rushes to the barricades of our nation's democracy, daring to confont John "Mad Dog" Ashcroft as he rips into our Bill of Rights and tries to strip We the People of our hard-won personal liberties? Not the Congress -- it's meekly going along, providing the authority and funding for Ashcroft's maniacal assault. Not the puffheads of the media -- they're too busy shouting "patriotism" and cheering the Bushites to see, hear, or speak any evil by the emperor.

Instead, our gutsy defenders of liberty are librarians in cities and towns throughout the country. They are distributing information and joining public discussion groups to tell us about the freedom-busting legislation that Ashcroft cynically titled the "USA Patriot Act." This thing is a Little Shop of Totalitarian Horrors, including provisions that compel librarians to turn over to the FBI the reading, reseach, and internet records of any and all library users, prohibiting librarians from even telling you that your records have been seized by government agents. This is no theoretical threat, for librarians report that Ashcroft's agents are making hundreds of these demands.

To battle back, librarians are doing everything from issuing public warnings to refusing to cooperate. Many have also added a new piece of essential machinery to cope with Ashcroft's Brave New America: The paper shredder. Rather than hold your records, librarians are now routinely destroying as many as possible, so they don't have to be complicit in Ashcroft's destruction of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

To learn what you and your librarian can do, call the American Library Association: 1-800-545-2433.

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