'THIS CIVIL LIBERTIES THING IS PRETTY DARNED IMPORTANT'
Holy cow, what a deluge! Thanks to the many readers who responded to the
Green Party USA release that ran in the Letters column last week (#281).
Here again, with this story about yet another passenger banned from an
airport for murky reasons, we have either an urban legend in the making
(see #278, #280), or a case where the authorities have acted so badly
that they're trying to "adjust" the facts in their favor.
Happily, the local press in Bangor does exactly what it should in crazy
cases like this - it ends up (I think) saving the day.
It's important to note the official wording of the Green Party USA
release, which was widely circulated but not picked up by many
newspapers (thus sent to me by a reader and run intact in #281). If you
read it last time, just scroll down to the second scored line:
GREEN PARTY USA COORDINATOR DETAINED AT AIRPORT
PREVENTED BY ARMED MILITARY FROM FLYING TO GREENS MEETING IN CHICAGO
Armed government agents grabbed Nancy Oden, Green Party USA
coordinating committee member, Thursday at Bangor International
Airport in Bangor Maine, as she attempted to board an American
Airlines flight to Chicago.
"An official told me that my name had been flagged in the computer," a
shaken Oden said. "I was targeted because the Green Party USA opposes
the bombing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan."
Oden, a long-time organic farmer and peace activist in northern Maine,
was ordered away from the plane. Military personnel with automatic
weapons surrounded Oden and instructed all airlines to deny her
passage on ANY flight. "I was told that the airport was closed to me
until further notice and that my ticket would not be refunded," Oden
Oden is scheduled to speak in Chicago Friday night on a panel
concerning pesticides as weapons of war. She had helped to coordinate
the Green Party USA's antiwar efforts these past few months, and was
to report on these to The Greens national committee. "Not only did
they stop me at the airport but some mysterious party had called the
hotel and cancelled my reservation," Oden said.
The Greens National Committee -- the governing body of the Green Party
USA -- is meeting in Chicago Nov. 2-4 to hammer out the details of
national campaigns against bio-chemical warfare, the spraying of toxic
pesticides, genetic engineering, and the Party's involvement in the
burgeoning peace movement.
"I am shocked that US military prevented one of our prominent Green
Party members from attending the meeting in Chicago," said Elizabeth
Fattah, a GPUSA representative from Pennsylvania who drove to Chicago.
"I am outraged at the way the Bill of Rights is being trampled upon."
Chicago Green activist Lionel Trepanier concluded, "The attack on the
right of association of an opposition political party is chilling. The
harassment of peace activists is reprehensible."
For further information, please call 1-866-GREENS-2 (toll-free).
Okay, so that was the story from the Green Party USA. Here's what
Almost immediately after its release, letters began circulating on the
Internet stating that Oden's story was a "fib."
Some writers said Oden was stopped NOT because her name was on a list of
suspicious travelers but because she was "abusive" and "did not comply
with standard screening for weapons" (i.e., the body check via
electronic hand wand).
Others added that Oden was not part of the "real" Green Party but a
member of a dissident splinter group, and therefore her word was not to
Then came a slew of letters defending Oden and taking offense at one or
the other Green Party until the facts, whatever they were at the
beginning, got lost in the cybershuffle. It was another occasion of
instant chaos on the Internet, that dear showplace of democracy at its
Here's what I think happened:
Re the Green Party: There seems to be a bit of infighting going on
between Green Parties: Oden's, the Green Party of the USA (GPUSA), is
the original group, having held national conventions since 1984; the
other, the Green Party of the US (GPUS), was formed in July 2001. It's
thought that some members of GPUS may have been "after" Oden before and
used the airport incident as a weapon (I think so too).
About the list of names at the ticket counter: It appears that Nancy
Oden, a 60-year-old activist, is well-known to Maine law enforcement for
her anti-war and environmentalist activities. Most observers believe she
was profiled or targeted for that reason, not for her Green Party USA
affiliation. That's why other GPUSA members remain unlisted and are
flying without incident.
About the wand search: Oden says in her own statement (see below)
that she cooperated with a wand search and a luggage search. When two
security guards tried to open her bag, the zipper stuck, and she
attempted to reach over and help them. At that point, a National Guard
soldier grabbed her arm roughly and yelled at her (she says he was
shouting pro-war dogma), and she stepped back.
Was Oden "abusive": Oden admits that after the loud National Guard
soldier told her to follow him, she walked as slowly as possible (she
calls this "passive resistance"). When surrounded by other National
Guard soldiers, she laughed at them and said something like, "is this
all for me?" So she intended to make them angry and did.
Why this is important: The airport at Bangor is considered a
jumping-off point into the United States from Canada, where many
terrorists have gained entry in the past. If security and military
guards are allowed to stop the Nancy Odens of the world here - for no
other reason than past antiwar and pro environment actions - there's no
telling how many other airports will stop other citizens for similar but
equally arbitrary reasons.
As one of her defenders has written: "[Airport] officials did not report
that she refused any search....[They also] did not report any kind of
disturbance or prohibited items on her or in her baggage, nor any
abusive language or threats from her."
How the local press handled it: Following its news story of Oden's
experience, the Bangor Daily News ran an editorial by Bruce Kyle that
has emerged as the most critical and even-handed treatment of the event
"There are two things you need to know about Nancy Oden," Kyle writes.
"She always laughs. She never gives an inch.
"I've known those things for more than a dozen years. So when the story
broke last week that someone had been rousted out of Bangor
International Airport for not being sufficiently compliant with the new
airline security regime, it was no surprise that this happy warrior for
the environment and social justice was that someone."
Well, no one has characterized Oden as a "happy" anything before, so
Kyle's take is immediately surprising. He's also bemused that people on
the political Left - particularly opposing GPUS members - gave Oden a
"bareknuckle pounding" while people on the Right were more supportive.
He knows this because he visited As Maine Goes (http://www.asmainegoes.com), "a website where Maine's right-wingers
meet to chat (I visit weekly so I know how I'll be thinking when I'm 92
if I don't get myself a good hobby)."
At that website he found "a fair amount of 'it couldn't have happened to
a more deserving Leftie,' " Kyle says, "but the overall consensus was
that this civil liberties thing is pretty darned important."
Kyle's point is that Nancy Oden probably earned her way on to MANY lists
targeting dissenters. "From GPUS members across the land, we've received
many helpful little notes advising us that Nancy Oden is pushy and rude.
Of course, if Nancy Oden was a GPUS member, she'd be resolute and
"Knowing her, I have no doubt that Nancy Oden could be an enormous pain
to work with." That doesn't mean she hasn't been effective: "A lot of
Greens talk about being activists. Nancy Oden's the only one I know who
went beyond talking and actually did something that truly helped real
"Remember Township 30 — the big plan back in the late '80s to build a
gigantic dump in Washington County for incinerated garbage from all over
the Northeast? Remember how the entire county — back-to-the-land
hippies, crusty old busters, hard-nosed businessmen and sweet little
garden club ladies — rose up in amazing unity and told the state and the
developers that Washington County was poor, but not that poor? A lot of
people helped make that happen, but no one deserves more credit than
Kyle goes on to describe his coverage of the Green Party USA since 1994,
"when they first gained ballot status in Maine, and I heard the leaders,
now the GPUS crowd, swear that the very next step was to get Greens in
the Legislature. Seven years later, they've yet to crack that elite
186-member body. They did, however, just this Tuesday get two Greens
elected to a local school committee and a board of selectmen, so the
This attention to local detail and his own long history with Oden's and
the Green Party's activism in both its incarnations makes for one
fair-minded editorial. Kyle respects the Greens (all of 'em) whether he
agrees with party politics or not. He's reported on their Maine
coordinator Nancy Oden long enough to believe she is the real thing. And
he knows a violation of civil liberties when he sees it.
Whew! Is it going to take this kind of digging and rethinking and
observing and reading with every danged airport stop to find out the
truth? I hope so.
TRAVELING TIPS FOR LAW-ABIDING READERS
Okay! If you'll be traveling by airplane this Thanksgiving, remember the
lessons from this and previous reports about airport hysteria: In #275
there was the Philadelphia man who was banned for reading Edward Abbey's
"Hayduke Lives" because the cover showed dynamite sticks and a clock;
#280 featured the Pakistani writer who got stopped at a German airport
for carrying Karl Marx's "On Suicide."
If you plan to read on the plane, don't, for heaven's sake, take
Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections," or you'll risk scaring guards half
to death that it's about prisons (and of course it is, but
metaphorically - there's this family that's American through-and-through
and they're all imprisoned by cultural terrorisms...) and the book is so
thick you may have a file in there to help captured terrorists escape or
maps of airplane construction. Same problem with "True History of the
Kelly Gang" - more prisoners and who cares if it's set in Australia -
terrorism is a world wide threat! And don't even consider "The Devil's
Code" with its two most unpatriotic words (we know who the Devil is and
we know he delivers orders to his cells via Internet codes!).
I'd also forget Philip Roth's "The Dying Animal" or anything about
death, finality or last things, such as Louise Erdrich's "the Last
Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse," and anything about war or
hatred - "The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews," Alice Munro's
"Hateship ... " (they won't get to the rest of the title) are verboten
(oops! wrong language - get rid of "The Good German," too), and remember
that mysteries like P.D. James' "Death in Holy Orders" (another two-word
giveaway) and crime novel cookbooks ("Food to Die For") have got to go,
as should "Jack: Straight from the Gut" (too visceral), "Black House"
too black, "Sea of Swords" too swordy and "A Bend in the Road" too bent!
What's the lesson? Stay home and read under the covers.
Good news for seekers of Arundhati Roy's essays (re #281). The new
issue of Ruminator Review is publishing "The Algebra of Infinite
Justice," and we're the only U.S. publication to be running the entire
piece, along with an essay by Wole Soyinka on religious fanaticism and a
terrific interview with W. S. Merwin, on poetry and politics.
Copies of the Winter issue may be ordered at $5.00 apiece from
firstname.lastname@example.org or Ruminator Review, 1648 Grand Avenue, St. Paul,
MN 55105, 651-699-2610.
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