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Now We Are Engaged in a Great War: Publishers and the Patriot Act

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I dreamt last night that I was giving a speech to a large assemblage of publishers at the PMA-U luncheon on the issue of the Patriot Act. This law gives the federal government the power to coerce publishers and librarians to hand over lists of book buyers or borrowers. Here is what I had to say. Read this slowly and HEAR the words. Please picture in your mind’s eye the crowd quieting down as I come to the podium. . .

Mr. PMA President, Madame Director, and fellow PMA members, thank you for allowing me to speak to you this afternoon.

My name is Al Canton and I’m a publisher. And like all of you, I see our endeavor as a noble one; indeed, I believe that we are among the key “keepers of the culture.” It is through our eyes, ears, and efforts that so much of the world’s population receives content they use to make decisions that determine their business, social, and “moral” lives.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and we answer to a higher “authority” than, say, a computer chip manufacturer or an auto dealer.

We publishers MUST understand the difference between right and wrong. If we don’t understand it, how can we communicate it to a world that looks to us to provide information for guidance and leadership?

The Patriot Act and similar Justice Department actions have been a great travesty of Constitutional law. Librarians should not turn lists of who has read what over to the FBI. Nor should publishers turn over the names of customers who have bought their books.

Those who support the Patriot Act claim that the freedom to defend is equal to the freedom of choice. They have extolled the virtues of community defense above any kind of individual freedom. Yet they fail to understand that the so-called freedom they seek to protect cannot be protected by tyranny.

Many say that a small “injustice” is permissible and often necessary in times of turmoil and emergency.

I submit to you that great evil starts with the acceptance of small injustices.

When I read about the truly great injustices that have happened during our lifetimes, I always wonder, “Who are the people who are responsible? Do I know any of them?”

Who were the people who turned their heads during the Holocaust? Who were the people who ran the railroads to the concentration camps, who swept the sidewalks after Kristallnacht, who bought and sold the houses of families the Gestapo took away?

Who were the good citizens who allowed racism and discrimination to exist in their towns and communities for so long? Who were the educated elite who knew about the lynchings and did nothing? Who were the people who witnessed the hate crimes and kept silent? Who took care of Bull Connor’s dogs?

Are they as responsible as those who made the laws, enforced the laws, and committed the acts?

The answer will come from your own soul.

Now we are engaged in a moral debate in our own community over whether or not we should support a government that is openly committing an assault on the First Amendment.

Where is the rage? Where is the outrage? Where are the great publishers of

this land who are willing to stand up and “just say no.”

Major industry organizationsincluding PMA, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, and PEN American Centerhave taken a formal stand (see “Join the Fight to Protect Freedom to Read” in the May 2003 PMA Newsletter). But the prevailing attitude from most publishers is “I’m so sorry all this is happening, but can you tell me how I can get a distributor?”

We publishers have to answer the question “Who is responsible?” Yes, it is

our government that seeks to strip us of our First Amendment rights. But

it goes beyond that. The responsibility is also with all of those who maintain a quiet presence and who say nothing.

You are presented with what may be a once in a lifetime chance to take a stand. You have a chance to make a difference. You have a chance to turn to the tyrants and say, “NO, this is wrong. I will not be a part of it.” You have a chance to do the right thing, to say that the Patriot Act is wrong, and to bring about the end of a law that was conceived in hate, anger, and intolerance.

Even if you are a new publisher and don’t know what an ISBN is, you DO know

right from wrong. No matter what kind of publisher you are, or how long you have been in the industry, I believe that the actions you take on this issue will leave a lasting mark on you for the rest of your career.

It’s an issue of right and wrong.

I think that every self-respecting publisher should demand that our government revoke the Patriot Act with respect to books and literature.

Fellow publishers and colleagues, this is a simple issue. There are no shades of gray here. I do not believe in my heart of hearts that a publishing house with integrity can be in agreement with any part of the Patriot Act.

Why? Because we are publishers! We are different. We are special. We are supposed to be “above” the common and petty. We are not Amway salespeople or used car dealers. We are not get-rich-quick scamsters, or faith healers. We

are publishers.

Let me say it again; we are PUBLISHERS!

We answer to a higher authority. We are the ones who are here to help “make

life just.” If we don’t stand for that, if we don’t stand for the freedoms that nurture us, than what do we stand for?

No, it is not money. No, it is not fame. No, it is not art. No, it is not power.

It is integrity.

It is honor.

It is freedom.

It is justice.

This is what we are about. And if we are not, then who in our society is?

Twenty years ago, a group of enlightened publishers brought forth to this industry an organization dedicated to the notion that by working together and learning from each other we would have a decent chance of success.

We publishers were conceived in the liberty of the First Amendment freedoms granted to us by our Constitution. Now we are engaged in a great controversy;

that of the freedom to read… the freedom to learn, the freedom of the press… testing whether we publishers or any group of citizens so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

We are met during this controversy on the battlefield of liberty and freedom, to fight the notion that a government entity can intimidate its citizens and those who seek to publish what they think is the truth. We need to decide if we should dedicate ourselves to answer the call by speaking out so that all who desire such freedoms will be able to live and prosper in the future. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

The publishing world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but

I believe it will never forget what we do here. It is for all publishers to be dedicated to the great task remaining before usthat we who publish increase our devotion to the First Amendment and to that cause in which we believe; that we resolve for once and for all that publishers who have spoken out shall have not done so in vain, that all publishers shall have a new birth of freedom, and that the freedom to publish and the freedom to read shall always, shall always, shall

always…  exist for all.

Thank you.

Al Canton is President of Adams-Blake Company (www.adams-blake.com), a book publishing house and software development firm. While best known for his Saturday Rant column, published weekly for the past seven years, he is also the creator of the PUB123 order-entry software used by many small and mid-size publishers. He can be reached at ac@adams-blake.NET.

The author releases this work to the public domain and hopes that it will be reprinted wherever publishers might see it.

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