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Being A Citizen Is Something That You DO.

The panel this morning was an interesting conversation about constitutional and rule of law issues — me, David Cole (a fantastic law professor at Georgetown and a real light on civil liberties issues) and Rep. John Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. We all agreed that one of the lowest points during the last few years was the MCA and the gutting of habeas, because that coupled with Gitmo and all of the other questionable practices in how we treat others have brought the US to its lowest ebb in terms of influence on human rights and social justice around the world.

We will be years in the reparation of these wrongs. Including the long road back to restoring the DOJ to a more just and less politicized department. As David said, the attempt to return the Presidency to the Nixon Doctrine — "if the President does it, it’s not illegal" — is a failed experiment for which we will all be paying for generations to come.

I have gotten a few requests for my opening remarks from a few audience folks — so here they are as they were prepared for today:

When the patriots who fought to free the young colonies that became this United States of America put their entire lives, their property, their freedom, their claim to title and that of their families and friends on the line, they did so believing that freeing our young nation from the tyrannical whims of a petulant King George was essential to ensure the blessings of liberty for all the generations to come. So that the will of the people and the rule of law could triumph, and that the American public would never again suffer under the thumb of a demanding, crony-riddled government led by the king’s ego and his courtiers’ greed and lust for power.

Oh, how times have changed.

The Founders established a government by and for the people, a republic which included three branches who were to balance each other by a constant check and accountability tug of war for supremacy — executive, legislative and judicial — each with a discrete set of duties, but whose powers overlapped and intertwined, and all were subject to the consent of those they governed. In other words, they answer to all of us, and we should never, ever allow them to forget that.

For it is the governed — we, voters — who provide the ultimate check and balance on how our nation’s government operates — and we must continue to demand more transparency, more accountability, and more answers to the growing list of questions on what is being done in all of our names.

Citizenship is not just something that you have and are born with — it must also be something that you DO.

I write for the political blog Every week, we have some initiative going — calls to members of Congress, meetings for groups of our readers being set up with their elected representatives or their staffers, letters to the editor being written to local newspapers all across the country, issues education for our readers — you name it. Every single week.

Why? Because it needs to be done. We all need to be doing more, learning more…and speaking up far more often. Dr. King said "that a time comes when silence is betrayal." That time is now.

I became more politically active after I had my own child — and realized that the long term consequences of allowing governmental behavior like torture or indefinite detention without a full and fair trial, politicizing the Department of Justice so that legal practice became subordinated to "the math" of the never-ending quest for electoral supremacy, the gutting of civil rights enforcement, the stacking of our court system with judges with a Federalist Society agenda to actively service, the disrespect for the legislative branch with Presidential signing statements that override our nations laws with the stroke of a pen…I could no longer look at my daughter’s tiny little fingers curled around my own and sit back and watch my nation submit to a President who sought unilateral executive fiat.

And so I educated myself about the issues of the day, I started speaking up…and here I am. What I ask…all of you…is that you do the same. Benjamin Franklin famously said that "we have a Republic, if we can keep it."

That charge rests with all of us — each one of us sitting here today. It is a solemn obligation, a duty both to our history and all the generations to come. This nation was founded on the rule of law, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and a notion that "we, the people" are the ultimate arbiters of our fate.

There has always been a struggle for supremacy between the various branches of government. Each branch, at one point or another in our nation’s history, has seen its power ebb and flow over time. But there has always been a sort of unwritten code in the mutual respect that each has shown the other, even when they were fundamentally at odds over objectives. That has changed the last few years, where we have seen a wholesale attempt to shift power under the auspices of national security to allow for a unilateral executive to hold the reins of power with no tolerance for questions of the executive’s authority.

James Madison said: "It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."

Giving up our civil liberties does not make us more safe. It simply makes us less free. And if we hand over everything it is to be an American — our core values to be sacrificed on the alter of consolidation of power in a false trade for a trumped up version of temporary peace of mind…until the next time we are asked to give up a little more liberty, and so on and so on…then we have already lost. We must all, every day, stand up for liberty, for our laws, and for the freedoms so hard won by so many generations who stood tall in the face of tyranny and threats in the past. We owe that to our forbears and to all the generations that follow ours.

It is up to all of us. Every single day. Being a citizen ought to be something that all of us DO.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com