Saturday, November 19, 2011

This is America, damn it.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
                                                 -Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Yeah, we're having that discussion, because apparently we need to. Plus, I'm pissed as hell.

This country was founded in 1776 by a bunch of beatniks, rebels, and it could be said "dirty hippies" on a platform of defiance and granola-hugging personal freedom philosophies. Even the Founding Fathers called it "the Great Experiment", because it had never been done before and they were making it up as they went along. But make no mistake: They knew what they wanted, and clarified it quite well in the Constitution. Since I'm still angry, let's just quote the relevant bit, shall we?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

See that? Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably goddamn assemble. It doesn't say 'when or where convenient', or 'so long as the police and billionaire mayors approve'. IT JUST SAYS SO.

My own personal slap in the face by the First Amendment came when I was in my early twenties and ran into rabid anti-abortion protestors for the first time. Up until then, it was all just academic; yeah, yeah, freedom, blah blah. But then, here in front of me, were these rabid assholes who I really wanted to smack in the head. (Long story for another day.) I mean, REALLY wanted to smack in the head. But they had the freedom to be there. Once I thought it through for, oh, thirty seconds, I realized that we couldn't go locking them up or shutting them down on the basis of agreement, because that'd be the start of a long, slippery slope to a police state. So I indulged in flipping them off whenever I saw them (hey, I get freedom of speech, too), and that was it. Welcome to a free country.

By the time the Tea Party got going, I'd encountered so many ideas and opinions I disagreed with, over the years, it didn't even occur to me to wish for them to be shut up. This is America. Let it rip. One of the things I love best about this country is the great stew of ideas and opinions, and my own right to walk away if I'm dealing with someone too fanatical to be reasoned (or argued) with. Tea Party, check. Have a lovely time. Don't wait on me to join you.

And this brings us to the Occupy movement. Yeah, I'm in sympathy with them, but that's beside the point for this blog post. That's not what really scares me. (And pisses me off.)

What's really got me worried, and what should really scare the shit out of you too, is the response from the government.

Occupy's message is hitting a lot of very powerful people in the wallet, and in the last month, I think sheer numbers is starting to really worry them. Not to mention the 650,000 accounts closed at the "Big Four" banks and switched to credit unions. (Figures on this are very hard to find; but many credit unions are reporting a 100% increase in business since "Bank Transfer Day", November 5.) The response has been, well, Biblical.

Homeland Security coordinated with 18 cities to evict Occupy protests. Does that worry you? That an anti-terrorist organization is being used to shut off peaceful protests? It should. It really should. Unless you sincerely think Occupy is being run by terrorists. Which means the precedent has been set; the next time a group of people protest, nation-wide, Homeland Security might help evict those, too.

The police brutality has been off the charts. In the last week, cops at Berkley pepper-sprayed kids sitting peacefully on the ground. Cops in New York, well, the last two months have been a long string of police brutality in New York, but, let's see: they slammed a Supreme Court justice (who was there as a legal observer, not a protestor) into a wall; and, well, here's a summary, from the Guardian (UK), to give you an idea how the rest of the world is seeing this. Over on the Left Coast? Well, cops in Seattle pepper-sprayed an 84 year old woman (that's classy). Convince me a tiny 84 year old woman poses a threat, unless she's got a gun. Oakland... well, Oakland's always had a bit of a problem, in the form of a we-they view of the police. The last two months have done nothing to help it, with not one, but TWO military veterans being put in the hospital by police: Scott Olson was shot in the head with a tear gas canister; the cops helpfully threw flash-bang grenades at the people who tried to help him. Then Kayvan Sabehgi was beaten so badly he had a lacerated spleen, then left in a cell overnight before finally being treated for injury and taken to the hospital. Oakland claims they are investigating the injuries, but when the ACLU asked to see the progress of the investigation under the Freedom of Information Act, the city told them to buzz off.

I could go on. It's continuing now. You say you haven't heard any of this? Or almost none of it? Yeah. That's the other thing. The cops have been trying to block the press, everywhere, at every turn. News helicopters are ordered away from camps before clear-outs; the clear-outs happen at night under cover of darkness; cops ignore press passes and other credentials and toss reporters in jail. So even on the internet, detailed information is hard to find. (If you're interested, log on to Twitter and do a search for #OWS. You'll be amazed at the information that never seems to get to the 'outside world'.) Human rights groups are worried, because they understand without freedom of the press to keep people honest, this will only get worse. See all the articles I've linked to? How they're mostly from fringe and/or online only news outlets? That's because the major ones are mostly ignoring this. THIS SHOULD SCARE YOU.

And if all of this didn't suck enough, banks are paying big bucks to work behind the scenes to discredit the Occupy movement because "...Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.” Just chew on that whole thought process a minute. By the way? That document linked to in this paragraph? Short of violence, that is the single, most chilling thing I have ever seen on the internet. Ever.

Now, do you agree with the Occupy movement? Doesn't matter. Really. You're welcome to hate them all you like. But even allowing for that, you should be damn worried over how our constitutional rights are getting shit on. No one is holding these cops accountable: One cop who randomly pepper-sprayed a peaceful protestor lost ten days of vacation. That's it. As far as I know, he's the only one who has been disciplined at all, even with videos of police brutality plastered all over the internet. Cops have been hiding their badges and refusing to give their names, so all those videos? The official word is, the cops in them can't be identified. Scared yet?

No, if you're not a protestor (I'm not), it's not really your problem. Yet. But if this continues, do you think Occupy will be the only unpopular opinion to be shut down? If the powers that be can do this, what will stop them from shutting down other protests? Eventually, they will shut down one of yours. This is America. We protest like we go to baseball games and eat apple pie.

At least, we used to.


Catie said...

Good post - I'm concerned about this issue now. Didn't know before. Wonder what's going on in Canada... off to go try to find out

Shannan said...

Great post! Here in Columbia, SC they started arresting the Occupy protesters last week. Convienently right before the state Christmas tree was to be put up. The way the protesters are being treated has bothered me for a while now, and while I will not be standing out there with them they have the right to do what they are doing. Thank you for all of the info, it needs to be out there so we all know what is really going in in our country.

Emily said...

Here in the Hudson Valley, the New York papers are emphasizing problems that the protesters are causing: noise, litter, assault, blocking local businesses , and so on & on. I'm in sympathy with the protesters, but they don't seem well-organized or particularly coherent, plus the problems are real. This confuses me so that I'm coping in my usual way: head straight into the sand.

But what you are pointing out is horrifying. We need to know this.

Krysta said...

Been sorta-watching for info on the news here in the Bay Area. And the disturbing thing is that when they do talk about the Occupy movements, they seem to be taking the side of those trying to evict the movements, siting health hazards, crime, and local businesses.

Alicyn said...

i'm visiting my little sis at berkeley right now. the youtube videos that she has shown me of police brutality against the students and faculty are beyond disturbing. equally disturbing is the lack of coverage by major media, as you state. i mean, i have seen the local news play youtube videos of funny babies and cats, but they're not picking up these videos?? before i get carried away, let me just end with this actual quote from the email that uc berkeley chancellor birgeneau sent the student body after the violent clash that left many students with broken ribs: "It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience....We regret that, given the instruction to take down tents and prevent encampment, the police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy." truly chilling.

Katie K said...

I live in Manhattan and have been down to Zuccotti Park etc. Yes, you're right about all your observations. It's ironic, isn't it, that you have to go to the Guardian, an English newspaper, to find out what's going on here. The media (such as the New York Times) and the government are just showing their true colors. The purpose of government (and I say this as a lawyer) is to protect property and when 1% own so much, guess who it's protecting (hint: it's not us).

Emily: the protestors are not causing problems. Zuccotti Park was kept very clean. The protestors have not been assaulting people; the police have been assaulting the protestors. Why don't you come down and see for yourself?

The purpose of the protests is to change people's identification with the 1% and to realize that the 1% are fleecing them. That's coherent enough.

mellian said...

Check out My husband finds all these stories posted by members.

I'm with you all the way!

Linda said...

Amen! This country is going to hell on a tobaggan. This is some very scarey shit. If you want an insight as to how this may end, I urge you to read "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis. This book is truly chilling as you start to realize how it relates to today. Think it "can't happen here?? It's already started! In the meantime, repeat after me: "God Save the Queen", and learn the words to "Oh Canada"!! And remember: "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains".

Roz said...

Here's a plug for the place where I work: Al Jazeera English. We've been covering this crackdown on free speech during the Occupy demos.

If you don't have it on your local cable, tell the cable company you want it! In the meantime, you can watch a livestream on Today we're back in Cairo's Tahrir Square, but we are still monitoring events here in the US.

The First Amendment is what makes us Americans. No one else has it. Use it, defend it. It's our birthright.

Louiz said...

As a non-American, it ought to be "not my problem" but given the connectedness of all things, it will be my problem soon enough. Nice concise post, thank you.

Teri S. said...

I've been following your re-tweets and the unreasonable violence against the Occupy protesters. Full riot gear, pepper-spraying, and beatings are over the top for a peaceful protest, whether or not the protesters are breaking some kind of law. This is not my country as it should be, or as I know it.

One person commented on Facebook that the students were warned, implying they got what they deserved for non-compliance. I strongly disagree. It's convenient for the authorities to say that there's some law that the protesters are breaking (inappropriate use of a sidewalk warrants arrest? My fear is that the "law" will once again be used as a tool to silence our voices.

Sandra M. Siebert said...

I agree with you. I am angry too. The anger has been building for more than a year as I've seen "those in power" moving toward restrictions of religion and other personal freedoms. The response to the #Occupy movement just focuses that anger. My frustration builds as I feel helpless to do anything. I sign petitions and write to congress people, for what? They're not listening.

Roxie said...

I'm still confused about the occupy movement. The 99% in America live better than 99% of the rest of the world. What are we doing to close that gap?

Police brutality is inexcusable. So we have nervous young men who are ordered to put on their riot gear and "move out" non-compliant protesters. How are they going to get their job done? Not with pepper spray, that's for darn sure. Perhaps a gentle, reasoned discussion? What WOULD it take to get the protesters to pack up and go home? If they don't know what they want, how will they know when they've got it?

Corlis said...

The US has had similar incidents before. The Haymarket Riots of the mid 1880s involved police and striking workers. During the Great Depression, homeless gathered in parks and the outskirts of towns in Hoovervilles that were often raided by police. In their attempt to affect social change, Civil Rights and Vietnam Era protesters faced police brutality.

Be mad, it's better than being apathetic.

Be careful, sedition is a crime.

Irene said...

Glad to find someone who thinks and worrys like I do. And you say it much better. My response is usually not fit for small children or even sailors!