Friday, September 14, 2007

Remembering a champion for justice

"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after you how much fun it was." - Molly Ivins

As most of us know, the ACLU lost one of its greatest supporters in January when Molly Ivins died of cancer at 62. On Tuesday, in a tribute hosted by the Society for Ethical Culture, writers and journalists gathered on the anniversary of 9/11 to remember the Texas firebrand and the causes for which she stood.

Ivins, who famously gave one speech each month on behalf of the ACLU until the cancer she was fighting made it impossible, was a true believer in defending the causes of justice and civil liberties.

As she once wrote: "There's not a thing wrong with the ideals and mechanisms outlined and the liberties set forth in the Constitution of the U.S. The only problem is the founders left a lot of people out of the Constitution. They left out poor people and black people and female people. It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America."

Next month, her final book, co-written by long-time collaborator Louis Dubose, will be published by Random House.

The Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights, documents the struggles of little guys – always a favorite topic of Ivins – to defend their constitutional rights against government bullies.

Dubose, who attended the tribute, said he regrets his writing partner is no longer here to see the success of the people whose stories are told in the book.

The Bill of Wrongs includes a chapter on the Dover Area School District's First Amendment battle over intelligent design. Thankfully, Ivins lived to see the concept ruled creationism and its teaching in science class struck down as unconstitutional. But Dubose wishes she had lived to see more recent successes. "I regretted Molly didn't stick around long enough to see our subjects prevailing as plaintiffs," he said.

One of those subjects is John Doe. In Doe vs. Gonzales, the anonymous internet provider's free speech rights were silenced by the amended Patriot Act's National Security Letter (NSL) provision. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero struck down the NSL provision, which the FBI uses to demand personal customer records from Internet service providers, libraries and others without prior court approval. Marrero ruled the gag order, which prevents those served from discussing the letters, violates the First Amendment.

Additionally Dubose said Ivins would have really enjoyed seeing a Texas couple cash their $80,000 check with the U.S. Treasury last month, restitution paid by the Bush Administration for illegally arresting them because of the messages - "Love America, Hate Bush" and "Regime Change Starts At Home" – they peacefully wore on their T-shirts.

"I really miss Molly," Dubose said. "As a reader as much as a colleague.

"After she died, I got all these letters from people about her columns, saying things like, 'They made me realize I wasn't crazy.' Or 'They made me realize I wasn't alone.'"

The Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights, published by Random House, comes out Oct. 23.

Lauri in York

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