September 4, 2008

Over the weekend I presented the Densho Project at the Society of American Archivists Conference in San Francisco. This was the first time I attended this annual gathering and listened with interest as archivists from around the country talked about the importance of archives in a democracy. If done well and made accessible to the citizenry, archives provide the details that bring transparency and accountability to the decision making process. With this insight I chuckled out loud as the room of well behaved, polite archivists transformed before my eyes into courageous protectors of our democracy, risking careers to make more documents available.
I then returned to Seattle and felt my stomach drop as I watched TV as Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin mocked our civil rights when she attacked Senator Obama by saying,

“Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America,” Dramatic pause… “He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

This caused a roar of laughter and approval from the crowd while I sat quietly watching TV and wondering what happened to our principle that people suspected of wrongdoing have a right to defend themselves against the charges. Similar charges were made against 120,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated over 65 years ago – they were not given their rights, there were no trials, and none of them were guilty.