Be Prepared for the Fearmongers

Let’s exercise a thought experiment for a moment. Sept. 11, 2001 was just a normal day and not a tragic historical event, we do not have a presidential election in less than three months, Bush’s only lead in the polls is not in regard to the fight against terrorism, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never occurred. Let us further pretend that Homeland Security was still formed for some reason. Today is Sept. 1, 2004. In eight days Homeland Security will announce that September is "National Preparedness Month." Does it seem odd to announce a national month long campaign nine days into that very month? Does that sound prepared? Does that sound like a month? Last time I checked the calendar, September has 30 days. Twenty-two days isn’t even a month on a lunar calendar. Politics aside, it is still odd.

Let’s get back to reality. To make ready beforehand is to be prepared. Homeland Security put out their press release on Aug. 10 so they have been in the planning stage for quite sometime. It’s not likely that they came up with the idea on Aug. 9 of this year. In looking at the calendar (.pdf) put together by the America Prepared Campaign for this month, there are events planned before Sept. 9, so why, according to the American Red Cross, is there a "planned nationwide announcement on September 9 by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Tom Ridge declaring September as ‘National Preparedness Month’"? It is all too obvious just how prepared they really are.

In an article posted on, Bob Harris wrote "this year’s 9/11 anniversary falls on a Saturday, so an announcement on the date or even Friday would only get a burst of free media on a weekend. But by timing it for the 6 p.m. news on Thursday, it’ll reach the Friday papers, and thus be fully-injected into all of the emotion-laden anniversary coverage, plus the Sunday morning talk shows."

What’s in store for the children? Well, they can participate in a "Duck and Cover" type contest named "Ready Deputy." Very cute and complete with a cartoon character, $10,000 for your school, and Tom Ridge as your principal for a day. I remember the "Duck and Cover" drills as late as 1982 in grammar school during the continued nuclear war scare. I used to have nightmares about running to the bomb shelter with half of my flesh dripping off my 12-year-old frame. In the waking world, my family never had a bomb shelter, thankfully. My school never had contests, or the ability to have a Tom Ridge-like figure as our principle for the day. Now, there’s an incentive. Fear is an important piece of the constrictive nature of conformity. Call your schools and find out if they are participating in this non-constructive fearmongering, and if they are, ask to have your own teach-in. If the school is unwilling to have a dialog, keep your children home, take the day off of work and go to the beach, or park and tell your children how brave they are for going down the slide alone, or swimming in the cold September water, if it’s clean enough to swim in. But whatever you do save, them from this state-sponsored fear.

The rest of the month is full of preparedness classes, teach-ins, family plans available at a Starbucks near you, and a NASCAR race. A NASCAR race? Bob Harris states, "This would be the ‘Chevy Rock ‘N’ Roll 400′ at the Richmond International Raceway. Obviously, a NASCAR race has nothing – nothing – whatsoever to do homeland security. It is, however, a GOP-friendly event in Virginia, a battleground state where Bush’s lead is within the margin of error." This National Month of Preparedness isn’t a political move?

The presidential election is coming and Bush’s only issue in which he out-polls Kerry is his "management of the fight against terrorism," according to a CBS poll. Interestingly, the web page where the poll’s results are located also has a section marked "War on Terror: Complete coverage, from Afghanistan to the Showdown with Saddam," further animating the lies regarding those pesky fictional ties between Iraq and terrorism that keep appearing in the news. So it’s no wonder that 52% of those polled by CBS approve of Bush’s handling of the war on terror. Which brings me to the list of sponsors.

As pointed out by Bob Harris, there are "a whole slew of various military, religious, law enforcement, and business lobbying organizations" co-sponsoring the events of the month. "[Y]ou won’t find a single group – not one – with a progressive agenda." Of course, there are many emergency health organizations. Check out the list yourself.

What about the media? There are media groups involved, such as the Ad Council, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and even the Outdoor Advertising Association. How could a coalition of fear corporations work in disseminating an obviously politicized agenda without the corporate media?

I attended an interactive workshop, "News and Terrorism: Communicating in a Crisis," as a photojournalist. It was postponed from a date in late July and then held on Aug. 11. The workshop was only open to those who worked in radio, television, or newsprint. First, let me say that I am not a photojournalist, and I don’t work for any media company. If security and terrorism is such a big deal for Tom Ridge and Homeland security, I didn’t see any evidence of security at this closed event other than a request at the end of Secretary Ridge’s keynote speech that we stay seated while he left the building. When I heard the request I imagined that they would blindfold us and twirl us around as he was leaving. I was expecting at least a metal detector. During the speech there was a lot of clapping in the room. The news person sitting to my right often nodded her head in complete approval and looked to me for my own gesticulated affirmation of Secretary Ridge’s sound bytes. My refusal to affirm by clapping along with everyone else made her clearly uneasy, and she stopped looking over to me after about the third session of applause. The keyword of the day was "cooperation." The key tone was that of congratulatory self-importance.

During the question and answer session, not one corporate media person questioned the role of the workshop. According to Secretary Ridge, "These workshops will play a key role in the Department’s efforts to provide journalists and state and local public information officials with the tools and contacts needed to report complicated, but life-saving information in the event of a terrorist attack." In other words, Homeland Security can feed journalists the "correct" expert view. One job of the media is fact-checking, otherwise known as research. To research a topic means to check multiple sources. To research is not to be fed facts and experts by the feds. Given the multiple quasi-apologies spoken and written recently by "respected" news empires to the public for not checking sources better, for not questioning the government’s premise for a war that thrust death, humiliation, torture, destruction of infrastructure, and radiological waste into the lives of 24 million people, I would have expected at least a little weariness, and possibly some actual questioning of the role of the workshop. Actually, I didn’t really expect any real questioning from the corporate media that day, but it was still shocking. There was laughter, and it wasn’t an uneasy type of laughter. Questioning stayed back at the office that day. It used to be my naïve outlook that the media provided the general public with critical and probing coverage of the government’s administration, at least some of the time. The marriage between the government and the corporate media is all too apparent.

Terrorism exists, doesn’t it? Of course it is real, but why should we spend all the time, energy, and tax dollars preparing for what is considered by many within Homeland Security as an imminent attack when we can focus on real questions and real solutions instead of passively waiting for another tragedy. We can start by asking the difficult questions of where terrorism comes from, what are the causes, what is terrorism and what is resistance, and what is the difference between them? How much terrorism is the U.S. and its Coalition of the Prepared to Follow directly involved in? How can we better affect our government’s foreign and domestic policies to change from brutal to humanitarian and reflect the true wishes of humanity?

What can we do? We can become more interested in truly reducing the likelihood of "terrorism" instead of waiting and preparing for the aftermath of an attack. We can address our very own terrorism. We can preempt the militant preemptors, shut off the talk show loudmouths. We can refuse to be complicit in war and in occupation both at home and abroad by refusing to pay for it and resisting war taxes. We can educate one another to think critically through real human dialogue, not formatted sound bytes. We can begin to realize and point out that the media and our government limit thought, frame the dialog, and cut out anything found outside of the box. We can turn off our televisions, let them collect dust, and stop paying attention to the consistent media lies, because even when they are caught lying they don’t really apologize or change their ways. We can turn to independent media sources for our daily news. We can help continue to build "our own networks, spaces built from humility but whose strength comes from a desire for truth and dignity." We must dismiss fear and stand with true courage to talk and act louder and larger than corporate media, Homeland Security, and the rest of the fear corporation workers. They are the writers and producers of this play of fear and cult of death. Would we be players in this badly scripted act? Their power shrinks while our truth spreads. They become ever more irrelevant as we keep questioning, keep writing, keep talking, keep educating, keep nonviolently resisting, keep supple. The limiting of thought is the crisis. We must also learn to communicate within this crisis.