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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Laments the Patriot Act's Repression of Freedom

    I wasn't going to say anything. It seems I may have already gotten myself into hot water by voicing an opinion (something that I thought was impossible in America--at least getting yourself into official hot water). But here I am in an airport in Reno, Southwest Airlines counter, and the agent is looking at me through his bifocals, me with hair as white as any granny's hair. He looks at my driver's license again. Notes the age. Not exactly the kind of person who looks like a security risk. (Throw into that USA born--Utah of all places. Well, OK, that could be suspect!) Carrier of a passport since pre-terrorist 1970s. Never had anything more than a speeding ticket. Never been to jail.) I didn't need to convince him with this litany however. He apologizes profusely for the trouble my husband and I are being put to.

     Actually, I had been on this list of security risks quite awhile and just didn't put two and two together. The fact that my husband can order tickets online and I can't. That I get so thoroughly frisked every time I go through security. That my bags seem to take a different route from his when we check in. "It's probably because you have such a common name," says the uncomfortable agent. (My passport reads Carolyn H. Johnson.) I'm thinking, sure, and my husband's name isn't common? "Yeah," he says. "There is probably someone else out there who is a risk with the same name. It happens all the time." All I can do is smile, tell him it's OK and that I'm not upset with him.

      If you're wondering how I got on this list, so am I. I have to assume it's because I am vocal about the portion of the so-called Patriot Act that limits the privacy of our citizens. (See archives.) This act allows the government to check what books we buy at bookstores, what books we take out of libraries, etc. As a writer, I feel especially strongly that this kind of observation limits law-abiding Americans and is not all that effective or necessary in diminishing terrorism. Think of how this kind of surveillance could be used by a totalitarian regime. How can we feel free (read that "unspied upon") enough to read what we want, form our own opinions?

      Apparently we also can't write what we want without risking our reputations and being put through some very grueling security measures. Think what you go through when you fly. I suffer double that and I travel a lot. I now give myself three hours to undergo the process I must when traveling internationally. That I am on this list appears to prove that the Patriot Act does need to be tweaked in matters related to free speech.

      On the opening day of the famous Book Expo America (in New York the first week of June), prominent philanthropist and author George Soros took questions from the floor. Soros appeared at BEA live via satellite from the Ukraine, where his Open Society Institute is working to establish services, such a free legal assistance, to ensure human rights and access to justice for all citizens. He said that contemporary America is an "open society that doesn't subscribe to the principles of an open society,'" and that "We have to recognize our fallibility.... The first principle of an open society is, we may be wrong." Soros said that he sees a threat to our Constitutional safeguards. Luckily he also sees "a growing awareness among people of the danger.... The general public is not extremist, and the public is beginning to take exception." He was quite confident that "we're going to see a reversal, we're not going to lose our democracy."

     I am glad to hear he is confident. I decided to risk getting into something more undesirable that hot water. If those of us who are true patriots don't stick our necks out, that "reversal" Soros mentioned may not come.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: The demand for my THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T has been so great I started a free newsletter called “Sharing with Writers” that will continue to feed tips and resources on book promotion and writing to authors long after they’ve read FRUGAL. Send an e-mail to with “subscribe” in the subject line.

Readers' Tip: It is not easy to provide some kids with enough books to keep them away from the TV. Enter Lea Schizas's new e-book (only $6.95)! It asks: What if you were hit with the realization that you were of royal lineage…to another realm? This is what fourteen-year old Alexandra Stone has to face in The Rock of Realm. It incorporates three learning elements – discovery friendship and courage. But the biggest lesson the young adult reader will absorb is that ‘things are not always as they appear to be’. The Rock of Realm will shatter the concept of ‘villain’. Find it at

2005 Past Columns

A Simple Good-bye to Robert Creeley
Carolyn Laments the Patriot Act's Repression of Freedom

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