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Nightmare of fascism still terrifies

( Here, by request - is the reprint of the essay published by 
Pioneer Press, Chicago Tribune, NPR Common 
and throughout the internet. 
First published November 20, 2001.
Still holds true, don't you think? ) 

I had the dream again.

It is a Technicolor, not-ready-for-prime-time dream, spiced with foul language and blood-chilling foreboding.

In my dream, I am held captive in the front seat of a shabby sedan by a fat, dark haired man with a gun. I sit as far from him as I can, silent in my fear.

The nauseating foreshadow of death floats through the air of the grubby automobile. I squirm as my obese captor brags about how easy it was to trap me.

Piece of cake, he snorts. All he had to do was follow me for a week and study my predictable life. He knew where I went for coffee, where I bought my groceries, how often I take out my garbage.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, I say to my dreaming myself. Why didn't I change jobs? Why didn't I move from my small town? Now, I am sunk.

This awful man is going to murder me and leave my body by the side of the road and no one will know where to find me.

My heart pounds in my ears, my stomach aches with nausea. But I have hope. Inside the fat man"s jacket is a small cell phone. I feel it as he pulls me toward him. While he laughs, I slide my hand into his pocket and try to dial 911.

But my hand is shaking, and I am discovered. I grab for the phone. My fatal mistake. He reaches for my throat and I awaken with a cry.

I don't need to go to a gypsy to understand my dream. It is a nightmare of fascism.

And it makes sense. Even in my waking hours, I am afraid. Not of the anthrax bacteria or the release of smallpox into the air. I don't believe anyone would bother to poison me, tucked away in this tidy little Minnesota town.

Neither am I afraid of planes striking my home or my children dying in their beds under shell fire of some half-crazed suicidal idiot. My imagination cannot stretch that far.

My fears are more practical. In the past few years, I watched them creep upon me like smog over a bright city.

They began when President Bill Clinton denied responsibility for violating a young woman in the Oval Office. They increased when Gov. Jesse Ventura shouted shame and discouragement to a young mother who came to him for help, and when Sen. Tom Neuville asked again for our Legislature to take away a woman's right to decide if and when she wanted to bear children.

Following the last election, when Supreme Court violated my voting franchise by naming the next president of the United States, and a chill of dread began to churn in my soul.

Even here in Northfield, I have reasons to be fearful. My local school district is so afraid of adolescent sexuality, drug use and music videos they are willing to suspend my civil rights to proselytize for Jesus Christ.

The Northfield police built additional barricades to protect the "Safety Center" from assault from some unknown enemy.

Firefighters are ready and able to evacuate the city in the event of bio-chemical attack. And my daughter is afraid to open our mail.

I wish I could believe this all began with the events of Sept. 11. But I know better.

Fascism crept upon post-World War I Europe with the same soft, calm footsteps it is using these days in the United States. As always, it begins with a loss of empathy and demonizing of the poor. A splash of patriotism here. A dab of nationalism there. Here a little affluence, there a little poverty.

Then one day, a shot rings out, a tower tumbles, an airline halts. The economy shivers. Rights are suspended and tyrants rule.

Last month, the House of Representatives and the Senate lined up behind President Bush in a mad dash to suspend the civil liberties of ordinary folks. Neither with a bang, nor a whimper, our liberty was trashed. With the exception of Sen. Russ Feingold, no one spoke a word of protest.

If there were a vaccine to prevent the decline of democracy, I know a few million people who would not even bother to show up for the inoculation.

Who will save us from this national nightmare? No one. It is impossible to dial for help when the fat man holds the phone.


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