Back in my radio days I sometimes got death threats, occasionally so vulgar and bullying that my bosses at the radio station implemented a policy in case any of those cowardly blowhards actually showed up in our parking lot. See, morning radio hosts go to work in the dark.
My job was voicing the left-wing half of a point-counterpoint discussion program. Don Kroah, representing the right wing, and I stirred the pot. Don was vehemently anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-social programs. I’m the exact opposite.
Don, a good guy, knew that he and I loved our families and our country and never took our discussions personally. He understood – as did most of our listeners – that we had different ideas about how our nation would best thrive, and our lively debate made good radio. Our ratings were pretty high; so high that we got ratings bonuses. The extra cash our popularity put in our pockets made Don and I willing adversaries discussing issues of the day.
So when raging cranks started sending anonymous letters – the anonymous part is why they’re called cowards – threatening that my children would find my body in the trunk of our car, the station called the police and implemented strategies to keep us safe.
One morning our bosses called a meeting. Don and I were in our studio and the station manager and program manager sat on either side of us. They announced that the back-door lock was getting changed and they’d improve the lighting in our parking lot.
Don looked up from the newspaper he was reading and teased good-naturedly, “What’s the fuss, I never get death threats.”
I replied, “That’s because my people sit on lawns and wave signs at street corners. How much attention would threatening that get?” Everybody in the room laughed at the notion of Don getting a menacing note that folks were going to paint poster board at him. Then we went back to discussing how to assure that no one hid in the bushes and followed through on a promise to shoot me.
My off-hand joke about passive resisters rings truer today than ever. As the number arrested for criminally threatening lawmakers continued to rise this week, it becomes more apparent that one side of our national discourse features an alarming number of dangerously angry dissidents while the other side has basically thrown in the towel.
The Associated Press cites numerous expressions of anger over the recent health care legislation: “A fax bearing the image of a noose. Profane voice mails. Bricks thrown, a gas line cut. White powder sent to an office.” Niagara Falls Rep. Louise Slaughter was among the House members who had bricks hurled through the windows of their congressional offices. Slaughter’s phone messages even threatened there would be “snipers.” WKMG in Orlando, Fla., reports that e-mails to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas were “nasty and in some cases threatening. One e-mail suggests the congresswoman do the nation a favor and commit suicide. Another tells her and her family to rot in hell.”
All this terrorizing over a nation’s anemic attempt at health care reform diverts attention from a story this week that should outrage everyone — but doesn’t even inspire folks to walk across public streets and peacefully stop traffic while demanding justice.
This week the London Times published the story that Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary Colin Powell’s chief of staff, confirmed in a signed affidavit that Vice President Cheney and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew that hundreds of Guantanamo Bay prisoners – ranging from age 12 to 93 – were innocent. According to the Times, Wilkerson “claimed that the former vice president and defense secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantanamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was ‘politically impossible to release them.’”
Politically impossible because it might interfere with their administration’s rush to war — an unwinnable war that has drained our coffers and sent thousands of our bravest to their deaths.
No wonder we’re a country fostering violent threats: Our country’s majority, the decent folks, won’t get off the couch – let alone block the streets – to demand justice.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.