Tuesday, September 2, 2008

U.S.Politics and the First Amendment

I made a conscious decision some months ago not to blog about national politics and my own opinions regarding the upcoming presidential race. I believe that positive change comes from the grassroots level and percolates up. I believe that it is important to create unity rather than divisiveness on a local level and that in order to do that we need a common cause, a common dream, a common goal. I believe that we need a green revolution, and that this revolution starts here, in Youngstown Ohio. That said, I'm breaking my silence about the national political scene.

This change of heart came yesterday upon hearing that Minnesota police launched a series of preemptive raids to intimidate protesters and quash dissent at the Republican National Convention and also arrested one of my favorite journalists, Amy Goodman from Democracy NOW.

Here she is later on Free Speech TV talking about the arrest.

Here are some examples of police activity and arrests being made throughout the city of Minneapolis. Do you know where your children are? Imagine for a moment that they are here and please do not succumb to the common parental state of denial that says, "oh no, my child would never do that," because as a parent and as a lawyer I can assure you they could and would and often do, and in the case of citizen participation in government I believe that they should.

Lest you think that this is just happening at the RNC, keep in mind that a detention center was built specifically to hold protesters at the DNC in Denver as well.

What all of this tells me is that the First Amendment is yet again being attacked. We've seen it in the past.

I have been attending demonstrations for a long time and the police have been squashing the people's right to assemble for many of those years. One snippet of memory comes to mind from the Bush Anti-inaugural Demonstration in Washington DC. I was there when police in full riot gear as usual, came at the protesters from behind the line and also came at them from the front of the line. There were very large buildings on both sides of the street, this essentially trapped everyone and created panic which lead to violence and much brandishing of weapons and billy clubs. As an aside, should this ever happen to you start a chant, "sit down, sit down". When everyone is sitting on the ground, it is easier to stay calm.

My point is this. It is time for the attack on the people's civil liberties to cease. In case anyone has forgotten, the First Amendment 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."

If we are to keep this fundamental right, we must use it, and keep using it. We must not take our democracy for granted, its continued existence depends on citizen participation and actions. As Naomi Wolfe explains in her book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, "The descent into repressive regime is slow and quiet. It usually does not come as an overnight announcement of martial law or suspension of elections. Instead it happens over the course of years, so quietly, that most may never notice until it's a fait accompli. Only then will people ask, 'how did this happen?'.

We must not take our democracy for granted. We must stand up and protest the violation and erosion of our civil liberties. Jan Pentz, a Youngstown history teacher told me recently that, "The difference between the United States and Europe is that in Europe the government is afraid of the people and in the United States the people are afraid of the government." I recognize the truth in her words. Our democracy is duplicitous. We say we are a government for the people by the people, but this often does not appear to be the case. Our founding fathers are tossing and turning in their graves. We are Americans, we are better than this. We must find our courage and overcome our fears.

I will end this post with a poem that has had many incarnations. The version here is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me-
and there was no one left to speak for me.

AND THEN from the punk rock band NOFX the song "Re-gaining Unconsciousness".

First they put away the dealers,
keep our kids safe and off the street.
Then they put away the prostitutes,
keep married men cloistered at home.
Then they shooed away the bums,
Then they beat and bashed the queers,
turned away asylum-seekers,
fed us suspicions and fears.
We didn't raise our voice,
we didn't make a fuss.
It's funny there was no one left to notice
when they came for us.


khia213 said...

The detainees are being denied the right to contact the Legal Collective which was set up for the protestors. This from Feministing.com:

Cold Snap Legal Collective, the organization advocating for protestor’s rights, has now had their phone calls blocked by the Ramsey County Jail. Concerned readers are urged to call the jail at 651-266-9350 and demand that they allow detainees free calls to their hotline number: 651-356-8635. More information and action guidelines http://coldsnaplegal.wordpress.com/">here.

First you're arrested for exercising your First Amendment rights, then you're denied your right to counsel.

I am frightened for America.

Anonymous said...

I posted a response to this at my new blog here: http://youngstownobserver.blogspot.com/

Thanks for writing about this!