Rich Broderick, August 30, 2008 • As I write this, the precise authority under which members of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department participated in raids of houses and private buildings in St. Paul and Minneapolis this weekend is unclear to me. I have heard from a very harried friend at the National Lawyers Guild that the break-ins and arrests of RNC protestors took place under the auspices of the Secret Service and Justice Department – apparently FBI members participated in the raids.
But under whatever authority and in the name of whatever statutes – at this point, the cause for detentions in Minneapolis has been given as “conspiracy to commit riot,” as flimsy and ad hoc a rationale as the infinitely elastic “Homeland Security Offense” listed on a police report to justify the detention in Minneapolis of independent journalists earlier last week which resulted in the seizure of their equipment and personal belongings – it should be obvious that concerns about this country turning into a police state, a corporation-friendly fascist nation like Singapore or the People’s Republic of China, are greatly misplaced. There’s no need to worry about this happening in the United States.
It already has.
It should also be clear that both the wish list of expanded powers to spy on, arrest, and detain “suspects” without charge that got dropped into the Patriot Act and the whole War on Terror have as their ultimate objective not to make life difficult for terrorists. No. Like the equally bogus War on Drugs, they are designed to make it easier for law enforcement personnel at every level – as always the chief line-of-defense of the propertied classes – to terrorize American citizens. Citizens who should perhaps henceforth more properly be referred to as “American subjects.”
The erosion of civil liberties and constitutionally guaranteed rights in this country – an erosion that, it cannot be emphasized enough, did not begin with George W. Bush but has proceeded apace under a succession of Administrations, both Democratic and Republican — makes all the eloquent calls we heard from Denver for unity and restoring the American Dream little more than hollow rhetoric. At the national level, both major parties are knee deep in creating and nurturing the military-industrial-congressional complex – the genesis of the national security state – that Eisenhower warned more than 50 years ago posed the gravest threat of all against democracy and the rule of law. I hate to say it folks, but when it comes to curbing this beast, there isn’t, to quote George Corley Wallace, “a dime’s bit of difference” between Barack Obama or John McCain.
Right now, there is a power vacuum in this country – a power vacuum that has made us easy pickins’ for the fascists among us; political discourse has given way to spectacle, as we have been conditioned by the mass media to believe that “democracy” is just something that happens every four years when we go to the polls.
At the local level, there are things we can and must do to address this vacuum, this confusion of spectacle with politics. We can pressure the St. Paul City Council to make sure that the security cameras that have been placed all around downtown St. Paul come down just as soon as the RNC circus vacates the Xcel Center. We can contact the Ramsey County Commissioners and demand that they do what they should have done a long time ago: rein in their Sheriff’s Department. We can pressure both city councils in Minneapolis and St. Paul into passing resolutions authorizing the arrest of Bush Administration officials complicit in any of dozens of flagrant assaults on our civil liberties should they ever set foot in either jurisdiction. We should vote out judges unable to recognize that such resolutions certainly do fall within the jurisdiction of local governments. We can also support the heroic efforts by non-partisan groups like the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU in their rearguard battles against the national security state.
Above all we can all step up to the table and acknowledge that our obligations as citizens do not consist solely in voting. We can begin to volunteer to serve on the literally dozens of commissions, boards, and other municipal, county and state organizations currently occupied, by and large, by persons interested in maintaining the status quo. It’s great to rage against the machine. How much better to take over its controls, turn it into an engine of progress and liberation rather than reaction and enslavement.
For Barack Obama is right at least in this: change must come from below, not from some savior descending from on high. As Woody Allen said, the world is run by the people who show up. And it’s high time we all started turning off the television and showing up.
Otherwise, we might as well kiss whatever chance we have of reclaiming the Constitution good-bye.