"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” —Justice William O. Douglas
Last week, both vice presidential nominee John Edwards and President George W. Bush visited Southern Oregon. Considering the area is relatively rural, sparsely populated, and Oregon is a state that usually gets little attention in a presidential election, it was an unprecedented and rather exciting occasion. I decided to try and get tickets to both events for my kids and myself.
Getting tickets from the Jackson County Democratic Party Headquarters for the Edwards' event was pleasant and easy. They didn't ask me to declare a party, didn't ask who I was voting for, didn't ask me to provide personal information or a DNA sample.
Not so at the Jackson County GOP headquarters. First they wanted to know my name, address, phone number, email, and my driver's license number. "Do they really have the time, funds, and need to run all this data through some security check? What are they afraid of?" I asked myself. But hey, if it'll get me some tickets, I'll grudgingly fill out the application.
It didn't get me the tickets. "Are you a Bush supporter?" I was asked. I explained that I was a registered Independent and not necessarily a Bush supporter. "Are you going to vote for Bush?" I was asked. "No," I honestly, and out of curiosity to see what would happen, replied. I was summarily told that if I wasn't planning on voting for Bush, I wasn't welcome. "John" came over to make sure I got the message. I told him I'd taken my kids to similar events (we saw Clinton and Gore in 1996) and didn't he think it was good to get my kids involved in the democratic process early? To take them to events such as these and let them make up their own minds? I guess not. He just kept repeating, in a rather intimidating way, that if I wasn't a supporter, I wasn't welcome. (Funny how he wasn't worried about how this sort of attitude might affect the future of the Republican Party.)
I initially found the whole thing absurdly funny even though I was shaking (intimidation will do that to you) as I walked out of GOP headquarters. As the day wore on and the more I reflected on the starkly different experiences I'd had at both headquarters, the more frustrated and indignant I became. What is happening in this country that my children and I are kept out of a rally for the man who is currently our president? I had no intention whatsoever of causing any disturbances or protesting the event in any way. We're a homeschooling family that uses a variety of life experiences and opportunities as our classroom. This was simply just another unique event for my children and I to attend and learn from.
Incidentally, I observed nary a protest during the entire Edwards’ rally the following day, despite the fact there had been no effort to keep anyone out based on their viewpoints or political affiliations. Why couldn't the Bush Campaign and the GOP behave in the same congenial and democratic fashion I wondered, and again asked myself, "What are they afraid of?" I even tried to come up with a new acronym for the GOP. Grand Old Paranoia came to mind.
Feeling more and more outraged by the sanitation of the Bush event, I decided to attend the unWelcome Bush rally to be held in Jacksonville. Jacksonville is a tiny little dot on the map (pop. 2245). It's a well-preserved gold mining town that now houses museums, tiny boutiques, eateries, and small inns. Bush would be spending the night here following his presumptuous and premature "Victory Rally" being held a few miles away in Central Point. A politically active friend of mine had organized the peaceful demonstration and had spoken several times with local authorities, informing them of the event, and asking all the pertinent questions. She was told that as long as people remained on the sidewalks, there should be no problem and that they were there to protect the president as well as our right to peaceably assemble.
Our group started out small, 70 or so people carrying signs, water bottles, video cameras, and children. As the evening wore on more people began gathering, Bush supporters and protesters alike. There were several blockades, manned by security, at different intersections to the west of where we were. People, to my knowledge, were respecting the requests not to move beyond the blockades as well as continuing to respect the request to keep to the sidewalks. When a helicopter started making low passes overhead, a portion of the motorcycle motorcade came by, and a throng of riot cops made their appearance guarding the west end of the block, we assumed the President was on his way. Everything continued to remain fairly calm, even with the mixture of chanting from both sides.
Suddenly, an officer within the line of riot cops ordered the crowd to move back two blocks to 5th Street. They allowed about four seconds for this to sink in and then started pushing us back by moving forward in a line. The sidewalks could not contain the sudden movement of people, and subsequently the streets became crowded and chaotic. If their desire for us to move had been communicated earlier, or if that portion of the street had been blocked off to begin with, people probably would have, in general, respected it, even though we were in our legal right to be in the vicinity. But instead, the authorities in charge chose to create confusion and conflict instead of wisely diffusing it ahead of time. And the result was an unnecessary melee: sudden gunfire; people running, falling, being shot with pepper bullets; children upset by the gunfire, and coughing from the pepper; women who were carrying their children being grabbed and pushed violently; people daring to ask questions being forcibly pushed and intimidated. It must be reiterated, this event was organized to be peaceful, non-violent, and family friendly. And, even though there was a mixed demographic on the street, the event remained non-violent and relatively peaceful, except for the actions of a few of the less than restrained riot cops. Riot cops, who were, we have to remind ourselves, taking orders from a higher command.
I fully expected to see the presence of the secret service, the snipers, and a multitude of officers at this event. What I didn't expect to see was a completely unnecessary use of extreme force in a situation that clearly didn't warrant it, and to my knowledge there wasn't anyone doing anything illegal or outside their constitutional rights. If there were, why couldn't a couple of these well-trained officers peacefully remove the offenders? I was at the front of the crowd when the mayhem broke out and I saw nothing that would warrant shooting pepper bullets, especially into a crowd so full of young children.
After returning home from this disturbing event, I turned on the news. The only thing that aired on my local NBC affiliate regarding the event was an interview with a Bush supporter in the darkened street. I did learn later that a couple other outlets offered a slightly more balanced, though still sanitized, viewpoint. Several independent video clips documenting the overuse of force have also been sent to various media outlets over the past few days, and to my knowledge, none have been aired. More sanitation. Could this be happening all over the country? How many valid stories are going unreported by the major media? Or are so sanitized as to be a faint glimmer of the actual truth?
Who runs this sanitation department?
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. —Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the U.S.
After about 10 minutes of Internet research, I observed a picture beginning to develop. And the picture isn't pretty. Yes, the silencing is happening all across America. At Presidential visits, during peace rallies, non-violent demonstrations, in high schools where kids draw anti-war pictures in art class, in small towns where people put dissenting comics on their car. All these events have resulted in visits, interrogation, and intimidation by the Secret Service. When you begin to notice the larger pattern of thought control, intimidation, and downright attack upon the very bedrock of our nation's guiding principles by the people who are sworn to uphold it, a sick feeling begins building in your gut.
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In answer to my question “who runs this sanitation department?" Dave Lindorff—investigative reporter, journalist, and columnist—succinctly explains, "White House advance teams and the Secret Service have routinely instructed local police at cities where the president or vice president plan to visit to remove demonstrators, particularly those carrying signs which might mar the TV imagery of a triumphant presidential motorcade or rally, and pen them in, often in fenced-in enclosures, well away from the event and the media. The result is news coverage that has seemed to suggest a universally adored administration."
At the very Bush rally I was refused entrance to, three teachers (who were craftier than I when trying to obtain tickets) were kicked out for the crime of wearing t-shirts that said, "Protect our civil liberties." Reportedly a rally volunteer said the shirts were "obscene." These three women were even threatened with arrest if they did not leave the event.
How have we come to such a point where advocating for protection of our civil liberties is obscene?? Of course, that's a silly question come post 9/11, right? Obviously, 9/11 (which was the all too convenient "catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor" that the neo-cons had been frothing at the mouth for since writing their thesis Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century in 2000) meant thatin order for ordinary American citizens to experience security we'd have to give up many of our freedoms. Duh. Fall in line sheeple. Don't ask questions. Don't be unpatriotic. Don't dissent. For heaven's sake, go shopping. Go to Disney World. But whatever you do, don't think, your security's at stake.
Yes, our security is at stake. We are in the midst of a massive takeover (some would say corporate) of this country. But the real enemy isn't some nefarious terrorist out there. It isn't in those shipping containers Kerry mentions. It isn't in Iraq. It isn't in your neighborhood mosque or at the peace rally down the street or in the underbelly of the next plane you ride. You know why Bush lost interest in Bin Laden? It's because he knows who the real enemy is, and where he resides. And no, let's not blame this all on Bush.
Aside from believing the enemy within is much larger than George W. Bush, I also believe a big chunk of the blame belongs on the media's doorstep. In a few short years, media ownership has been consolidated into fewer and fewer (for profit) hands. According to the website www.corporations.org/media/"In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S." And in 2004? "Only 5 huge corporations -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) -- now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric's NBC is a close sixth."
Freedom Chips Anyone?
At first glance this may seem completely off the subject, but what about the fact that the state of Virginia is contemplating inserting RFID chips in all state issued drivers licenses? Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, explains:
"Almost everyone carries a driver's license, and RFID chips allow people to be tracked. This proposal would allow anyone to set up an RFID reader to capture the identities and personal information of every person who comes within range. FBI agents, for example, could sweep up the identities of everyone at a political meeting, protest march, gun show, or Islamic prayer service.”
This morning, I mentioned this RFID program to my son, asking him how he'd feel if he lived in a country that monitored your every move via a chip that was implanted in your driver's license, internal passport, or even worse, your body (technology that was just recently approved by the FDA, by the way). He nonchalantly replied that he wouldn't necessarily like it but that it wouldn't be any big deal. I talked to him about civil liberties, about privacy issues, about the freedoms this country fought long, hard, and bloody battles to obtain. Unfortunately, I wasn't very convincing. But fortunately, he doesn't get all his schooling from me. He's also enrolled in several classes outside the home and this afternoon I walked in to find him doing some homework for one of them, reading excerpts from George Orwell's 1984.
I sat down to look through the excerpts my son had been reading, remembering back to when I'd read the book as a teen. Included in the reading homework was the preface Walter Cronkite wrote in 1984 for that year's edition of Orwell's novel. It reads, in part:
If not prophecy, what was 1984? It was, as many have noticed, a warning: a warning about the future of human freedom in a world where political organization and technology can manufacture power in dimensions that would have stunned the imaginations of earlier ages.
That warning vibrates powerfully when we allow ourselves to sit still and think carefully about orbiting satellites that can read the license plates in a parking lot and computers that can tap into thousands of telephone calls and telex transmissions at once and other computers that can do our banking and purchasing, can watch the house and tell a monitoring station what television program we are watching and how many people there are in the room. And we hear echoes of that warning chord in the constant demand for greater security and comfort, for less risk in our societies. We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that law and order can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered for whatever good reason are freedom lost.
It has been said that 1984 fails as a prophecy because it succeeded as a warning--Orwell's terrible vision has been averted. Well, that kind of self-congratulation is, to say the least, premature.
1984 may not arrive on time, but there's always 1985.
Yes, I blame this neo-oppression on the Bush cabal, I blame the media, but I also blame myself, and everyone else like myself, who just hasn't had the time, or taken the time rather, to pay sufficient attention. To question. To reason. We were born into very fortunate circumstances, our country having fought long and hard for the opportunity to be self-determining, democratic, and free. Yet we have mostly squandered that gift by our inattention and often slobbering focus on all things material. It's we the people who've handed over our power to the media, to corporations, to the government. We're the ones who left the store, leaving the door wide open and the keys in the till. A few months ago I ran across a rather chilling and haunting quote:
What no one seemed to notice...was the ever widening gap...between the government and the people....And it became always wider....the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway...and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so fascinated...by the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us....Each act... is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow....But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays....Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood....You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair—An excerpt from Milton Mayer's "They Thought They Were Free, The Germans 1938-45" (1955, University of Chicago Press)
Hopefully history has taught us what we must now do before it's too late. Before we are compromised beyond repair. First, we must take responsibility for becoming better informed, and we must do so by seeking out a wide variety of information. The powers that be have tried, successfully it seems, to drive a wedge through the middle of this country's heart. Not since the civil war or the civil rights movement have we been so vehemently divided. Does the term "Divide and Conquer" ring a bell? Now is not the time to allow ourselves to be silenced or divided. We must speak out. We must listen to each other. We must continue to build bridges through the use of informed dialogue and compassionate listening. It can, does, and will make a difference.
We must not be silent. For as Thomas Jefferson said, "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."