This is the year we discovered we are not invulnerable, the year we comprehended our mortality. Our home suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in history; somewhere along the line -- in the confused outpouring of anger, hope, fear, and national pride generated by the September 11 attacks -- we became patriots.
But it was also the year that the American Council of Trustees and Alumni singled out the un-American activities of college professors who made critical statements about US foreign policy, calling them "the weak link in America's response to the attack." It was the year that Congress passed a law loosening federal restrictions on wiretapping and Internet surveillance and called it the "Patriot Act." It was the year when Tom Brokaw rewrote an American motto, closing his nightly newscast by raising a small white plastic vial and intoning "In Cipro we trust." It was the year when everyone, from the President on down, encouraged us to express our faith in America by opening our wallets and purchasing a luxury vacation or an SUV. It was a year when national feeling and advertising, censorship and dissent crossed tangled paths, when it was hard to tell what was patriotism and what was a sales pitch or, worse, simply bullying.
In the East Bay, the tension between falling in line with nationalist sentiment and speaking one's mind was almost palpable. Although the Bay Area more recently has been associated with profligate yuppie spending than with peace activism, the East Bay reclaimed its place in antiwar history when 9th District Representative Barbara Lee issued her lone vote against the September 14 Congressional war resolution, which she called giving a "blank check to the President to attack anyone involved in the September 11 events -- anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit." She was also one of only 66 House members to vote against the Patriot Act.
Lee is not normally a high-profile national figure, but her vote turned her into a cause célèbre. Critics accused her of America-bashing and proclaimed she had just voted herself out of office; others hailed Lee equally loudly as the nation's lonely conscience. Lee's support is strongest in her home district, which covers Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda; constituents sent flowers to her Oakland district office, and a rally to support her drew 3,000 participants. Her office has been deluged with correspondence; Lee expects that when it's tallied at the end of December, she will have received between 65,000 and 75,000 calls, letters, and e-mails regarding her vote. She says that nationally about 65 percent of the responses have been positive, with that figure rising to about 80 percent in her home district.
But not everyone in these parts approved of Lee's vote, including a few grandstanding politicians who took advantage of her sudden prominence to polish their own contrarian images. Oakland NAACP President and Republican Party state secretary Shannon Reeves accused Lee of partisanship -- a dirty word after such a display of Congressional agreement -- and of dishonoring the memory of the African Americans who in past years served at the Oakland Army Base and the Alameda Naval Air Station. "While she has always enjoyed the unconditional support of the black community, her vote does not speak for the level of patriotism that we, as blacks, feel," he wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece. Former state assemblywoman Audie Bock, a Green turned Independent turned Democrat, promptly announced her candidacy against Lee in 2002, using Lee's vote as her only election issue. Bock's campaign was vicious, featuring a Web site called www.dumpbarbaralee.com that showed Lee's face just inches from an image of the smoking Twin Towers and the slogan "It's OK to love America." Perhaps sensing that attacking Lee wasn't playing well with East Bay voters, or perhaps because word leaked out that Bock's Web site was apparently registered and funded by a Sacramento consulting firm that normally handles Republicans, Bock pulled out of the race, handing her endorsement to her campaign cochairman Kevin Greene.
Of course, Barbara Lee was not the only one to take flak for her antiwar stand. In October, the Berkeley City Council, by a narrow five-four vote, passed the nation's first resolution opposing the US bombing of Afghanistan. Although the resolution's wording had been somewhat watered down by the time it reached the council floor, it ultimately called for "bringing the bombing to a conclusion as soon as possible," for the city to "urge our representatives to devote our government's best efforts ... [to] overcoming those conditions such as poverty, malnutrition, disease, oppression, and subjugation that tend to drive some people to acts of terrorism," and, in typically Berkeley fashion, to "request that we engage in a national campaign to lessen our dependence on oil from the Middle East and to commit to a nationwide conversion to renewable energy sources such as solar and fuel cells within five years."
Some disgruntled shoppers and businesspeople, who interpreted the resolution as unpatriotic, threatened to boycott Berkeley businesses. Although rumors surfaced about canceled contracts, and supportive neighbors quickly launched a "Buy Berkeley" counter-boycott, there was no discernible drop-off in the city's revenues. Berkeley also grabbed headlines with what was perhaps the year's silliest local nonstory, when Fire Chief Reginald Garcia ordered flags removed from fire trucks, apparently fearing that they would draw the ire of frenzied antiwar protesters, and then, besieged with complaints, apologized and reversed his order.
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