Human Rights

Finding Our Own Dignity and Power

Singer Rickie Lee Jones finds artistic motivation in the fight against the Patriot Act.
This is an excerpt from an interview with Rickie Lee Jones, conducted by Laura Flanders for Air America Radio. Jones has released a new album, "The Evening of My Best Day."

Laura Flanders: Rickie Lee Jones isn't famous for protest songs exactly, more for being cool, jazzy, romance-y... what happened?

Rickie Lee Jones: I think this is inspired so much by the moment in time of the Panthers in Oakland – a moment when dignity and power came to this depressed population, created totally by themselves. ...So I'm thinking, how do we find that now; how do we make our own dignity and power in a grassroots way that's not sold to us before we have a chance to grow it?

Caller: I wanted to ask Ricky why more celebrities aren't coming out and making a stand on the Patriot Act.

Jones: I'm not sure. I tried to get a lot of artists I know involved to put together a concert to educate people about the Patriot Act. There were only two or three people who said they would consider it. I pushed a lot of Latin bands, and they are very interested in participating, but Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, none of them wanted to participate in this. I think this is dangerous stuff, and to be frank and perhaps cruel, I also think they always use these things professionally. Like, "How does this make me stand professionally. Is this going to be a good concert for me to participate in professionally." I am completely baffled by this, because if we operate in numbers, we can't be stopped, and as long as people are separated, it's going to be hard for us....

Flanders: You felt the Patriot Act should be posted on your website?

Jones: Yeah, people don't actually know what it says.... The Patriot Act attacks two segments of the population. The first is the "fighting man." It calls the fighting man an "enemy combatant," instead of calling him a soldier, and by calling him that they get around the Geneva Convention as we have seen. And they must have wanted to do exactly what they have done in those prisons, otherwise why would they have created a law giving themselves the right to do so? They could do it before, but they wanted to do it legally, so they created the Patriot Act. If you are an "enemy combatant" you have no rights. We can arrest you at any age, we don't have to tell you why we are arresting you, we can hold you forever, and we don't have to tell any [other country] that we have you....

The other segment of the population that the Patriot Act attacks that John Ashcroft was so eager to test it on are American citizens. If we decide to prosecute you under the Patriot Act, you have no Miranda rights.

John Ashcroft announced with great glee that he was going to prosecute a drug dealer under the Patriot Act – drug dealing is a crime, it's not an act of terror. As far as I can tell, this is creeping from underneath. It's the end of all of our civil rights, the end of our country as we know it. If we don't stop this – I'm laughing – but if we don't stop this, I think we are done. [My song on the album,] "Tell Somebody" imagines a time in the future when we hadn't stopped it, and I say "tell somebody how it used to be just a few years ago, because we will never have it back again."
Laura Flanders is author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species.