-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?
THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES:
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.