Dissent and democracy


Remember the Boston Tea Party? That was property damage, wasn’t it? All that tea overboard?

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About a six weeks ago the Twin Cities, especially St. Paul, experienced a military occupation. If you were not involved in protesting, you might not have known how bad it was with helicopters buzzing above your head and militarized law enforcement on horses, on bikes, and in ninja turtle outfits—also called robo cops.

And why should you care? You didn’t get beaten up. It was only those nasty anarchists, wasn’t it? And that is what they want the public to believe.

What relationship do the militarized police with their pre-emptive raids and violence have to do with the incremental and systematic loss of our civil liberties in this country? What is the role of dissent in America? Why do we do it?

First came the PATRIOT Act. Then the renewal of the PATRIOT Act. And in between and continuing, the many Executive Orders from the White House giving the President of the United States powers that undermine the civil liberties established in the Constitution. In addition, in July of 2008 the FISA Amendment Act became a law. It allows the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines or emails it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, and why it is conducting surveillance.

Elaine Cassel, in her book “The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights” has a chapter entitled “Terrorism, Patriotism, and Homeland Security: The Legal Foundation for the War at Home.” It begins with this quotation from George W. Bush in September of 2001: “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

The founders of this country, after the Boston Tea Party, went on to establish a new country and Constitution. No, it did not happen just like that—it took over a decade before the Constitution was accepted. But we have held it sacred all these years—until now, when, according to Bush, it is “just a piece of paper,” easy to shred. (Stop throwing the Constitution in my face, it’s just a goddamned piece of paper! –Bush in 2005 over the renewal of the PATRIOT Act)

How did a group of young people (the age range is about 16 to 25), some who call themselves “anarchists,” most of whom are nonviolent, become a “terrorist group of global reach” worthy of being stopped and defeated?

What is anarchy as a political philosophy? According to Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia):
“Anarchists are those who advocate the absence of the state, arguing that common sense would allow for people to come together in agreement to form a functional society allowing for the participants to freely develop their own sense of morality, ethics or principled behaviour. The rise of anarchism as a philosophical movement occurred in the mid 19th century, with its idea of freedom as being based upon political and economic self-rule. This occurred alongside the rise of the nation-state and large-scale industrial capitalism, and the corruption that came with their successes.”

The term ‘anarchism ‘derives from the a Greek word meaning “without rulers.” There are different types of anarchism, with no single defining position that all anarchists hold, beyond their rejection of compulsory government.

Is the current anarchist movement global? Well, yes, it is. In this day and age, it could not be anything else. Is it mostly young people? Yes, although Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was an anarchist, and so is Noam Chomsky, linguist and political analyst and dissenter, who has been called the most important public intellectual in the world today.

To provide some perspective, here is a quotation from “Bill of Rights Under Bush: A Timeline” by Phil Leggiere (writing for QuestionAuthority on the MondoGlobo website):
October, 2007: “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act passes the House of Representatives 400 to 6. . . . The act proposes the establishment of a commission composed of members of the House and Senate, Homeland Security and others, to ‘examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States’ and specifically the role of the internet in fostering and disseminating extremism. According to the bill the term `violent radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change, while the term ‘ideologically-based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.”

This bill is not current. It was never passed in the Senate, where it had only one cosponsor, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, nor did it become law.

However, contained in it is the justification for attacking unarmed civilians who were exercising their civil liberties, their right to express their opposition to the government as represented by the Republicans at the Republican National Convention.

A key word in the above description is “violence.” The protestors in St. Paul did not use violence. They were unarmed. The real violence was perpetrated by the military law enforcement. Video after video, photo after photo, attests to this violence on the part of the police against unarmed civilians and the many media representatives they arrested, independent and mainstream media alike.

Even more alarming however, is the justification in this bill against “homegrown terrorism” for prosecution of “thought crimes.” It was opposed on these grounds by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other civil liberties groups. Yet it is exactly on the grounds of a “belief system” that the preemptive raids were made before the RNC, as well as serving for the basis of the so-called crimes of the RNC8. They are charged with “intent” to commit terrorist acts, not the actual acts.

In addition, in examining the following statement, it would seem that the Republicans, and George W. Bush is still the Republican president, were practicing the following:
“‘ideologically-based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.”

They were promoting the beliefs of the Republican Party (and the neo-conservatives who control it). The law enforcement officers were mercenaries hired with $50 million dollars to ensure they could promote their beliefs, which includes the use of force against anyone who disagrees with them. However, the rent-a-cops and their superiors still need to be held accountable for their individual and collective acts of violence. They cannot hide behind the State. Still, while objecting to their brutality, it is important to recognize their role as hired mercenaries.

Democracy is on the line in this country.

In the “Georgetown Journal of International Affairs: Dynamics of Dissent” issue (Summer/Fall 2008), Roland Bleiker writes an article, “The Politics of Change: Why Global Democracy Needs Dissent.” In this article he addresses the fact that with the onset of globalization we have no mechanisms for establishing a new, global form of democracy. Institutions are not in place to deal with the new globalization. “Given the absence of a global institution that could facilitate and implement democratic ideas, dissent becomes an even more crucial tool in the global society. Dissent is often the only way for disenfranchized people to contribute to global affairs. . . .”

While Bleiker maintains that “Order is a necessary precondition for democracy, the rule of law, the provision of human rights, and human civilization itself,” he also notes that “many injustices, from domestic abuse to torture and genocide, occur not from a lack of order but under an unjust order.” He cites fascism and the concentration camps in Nazi Germany as an example of “meticuous infatuation with order—which envisioned a racially ‘pure’ state and was determined to pursue a racial agenda with all requisite action.”

He goes on to say that “Dissent can occasionally be required to challenge oppressive orders and to promote a more just global society.” The more oppressive the order, the more dissent is required.

Is the violence of the RNC a direct reaction to 911, perpetrated against anyone who dares to dissent and referring back to Bush’s quote, about war that “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated”? Yes, it is, and it is also an obsession that has become an unjust order.

Underlying it all are the concerns of global regulation, corporate domination of the economy at the expense of human rights, and the interconnections we have recently so dramatically seen with all the world’s markets.

Coming back to the RNC and the young people, they inherit a global society in a way we never did. Globalization will not go away; it is with us to stay. It is their future, their world. What they face as a future is overwhelming between the need to stop global warming and to find a way to create a just world. So to say they are global is correct. Are they a threat? Yes, to an order that promotes the bottom line over human rights and human civilization and denies the effects of global warming.

I provided jail support at the RNC. I hugged those young people when they got out of jail. I gave them what support I could. I bought them some food when they ran out. When I asked what I could do, that’s what I was told to do—give them hugs. Although I felt a bit stereotyped as a grandmother-type, they were right. “Give us support, and let us do what we need to do,” is the message I got.

Protest is the positive voice of the people, so I will continue to join my voice, my way of protest, with their voices.

Sue Ann Martinson
Minneapolis, Minnesota
October 18, 2008