Taking It To the Streets
All right: Blackwater and other contractors have four BILLION dollars in US funds and, the New York Times reports today, almost no oversight in Iraq; wildfires are consuming acres of Southern California and many counties have been declared to be in a state of emergency — and nothing at all but a whisper of popular opposition and a prayer — nothing legal — would prevent Bush today from declaring that the National Guard is overstretched and that it is Blackwater’s torturers and murderers, recruited from Salvadoran, Ecuadoran and Nigerian paramilitaries, who will be `maintaining order’ in the `public emergency’ that is Southern California; and Mukasey has informed Congress that he has no idea what waterboarding is — which professed cluelessness alone should disqualify him from service — and that the President does not actually need to obey the law of the United States of America — which alone should alert us that if he is confirmed the game is over. Once Congress confirms someone to decide the law of the land who holds that the President is exempt from the law of the land (which assertion was, notably, an historic tipping point when Hitler asked his Reichstag to confirm a similar position about his powers in regard to the law and the constitution) it is open season on all of us.
It is time to take to the streets.
Many of you have asked about a national strike. This is the next step in a democracy movement. We need to hold monthly strikes — a word that is too scary for some, and we want to be inclusive, so rather we will urge people of all walks of life to participate in mass-action Constitution Days.
What will we do — in our millions, hopefully, we will Sit Down for the Constitution in the most public space in our communities. The seated mass citizen action is more effective now than a march; less cause for confrontation, more family-friendly, you can gather more people for a longer time and it can be more of a community affirmation of American values and the Rule of Law. Daniel Ellsberg, whom I had the honor of meeting last week in Berkeley, along with his brave and beautiful wife Patricia, reminded me that it took only three days of a widely observed National Moratorium to strike a real blow to the war in the Vietnam.
We propose that local citizens organize these Constitution Days once a month, on the 6th, starting Nov. 6 (before or after you vote). We suggest that those who can refrain from going to work or to school — use the time to be with your fellow citizens at the event or reading about democracy and sharing those ideals with your friends and neighbors. Those who can’t leave work, come for lunch hour. If millions join the nation will react, and even if the first few are small, we must begin. You guys have to organize these locally — we can’t. But that is powerful. Here is how to proceed:
The Liberty Kit for Constitution Days: Assemble a Powerful `Sit Down For the Constitution’ Citizen Action November 6 and Monthly Thereafter
1. Locally, a volunteer should set up a website announcing the time (start at noon, stay till five; you will have most visitors between twelve and two). The place should be the steps of the Town Hall or the most obvious civic space (in Chicago for instance everyone said Fenwick Park). Send a press kit to all local media outlets — you can get the resources in the library or online. If you don’t get coverage you can write to local advertisers of your local news and newspapers — cc the ad department of the media outlets — that you will stop buying their products and will urge others to do so as well unless they encourage local media to cover this local important news. Barbara Martinez who started at sitdownfortheconstitution.org provides a central space — send an email to the site after you event so we can get an accurate nationwide count of participants.
2. Ask all to wear red, white or blue t shirts or sweaters and dark slacks. A strong visual is more likely to get wide press coverage and a good color photo on the cover of a news section of local news. It is an even better visual if you arrange people into red, white and blue sections. That will inspire wide angle shots from a higher position. Protests from progressives always seem visually disorderly — making coverage less likely — and a visually orderly, peaceful set of groups also makes it harder for police to crack down violently on protesters after accusing them of misconduct.
3. Have people bring uniformly sized US flags — tell them a good local or internet source — or buy a lot and sell them there. It reinforces that this is pure support for the American system, not partisanship. (And it is a bad media image to taser people supporting the flag.) We want to send a clear message that this is above all a patriotic, transpartisan action on behalf of our fournders’ vision. People should not wave the small ones, but rather good-sized ones that will blow in the breeze (again, visuals and media attention) — 2×3 at least. Signs should be in red, white and blue and uniform: `Moms for the Constitution’, `Vets for the Bill of Rights’ `Teachers for Liberty’; `Americans Don’t Torture’ `The Constitution Keeps us Safe’ `Stand Up for the Founders’. Important are: `Independents for the Constitution’ `Swing Voters for the Constitution’ and `Republicans for the Constitution’ and `No President is Above the Law’. Signs should NOT address unrelated issues — veganism, Palestine or Israel, patriarchy — the left tends to let a chaos of messages dilute the force and inclusiveness of one strong message. The civil rights marches were always disciplined in focusing only on civil rights, for instance.
4. Encourage soldiers and vets to sit down for the Constitution in uniform. Give them the names of good local pro bono lawyers to call if they face reprisals. Publicize the reprisals.
5. Distribute copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Let people download them from the website.
6. Have people bring guitars, musical instruments and sing. Let ordinary citizens lead the singing from a microphone. For some mysterious reason, protests swell and move people when there is singing, but depress and dispirit people when there are only speeches or angry chanting. The civil rights movement sang. The contemporary left speechifies. So sing. Create a Constitution Songbook you distribute — with patriotic songs’ words and folk songs (this land is your land) that are widely loved — often protests have some v left band that alienates others not so left — people want to feel included across the political spectrum. Have the words of the Star Spangled Banner, My Country ‘Tis of Thee etc — as well as inspirational songs that are inclusive — in the songbook. It is hard to engage in mass arrests against people singing the national anthem.
7. Have people also bring sleeping bags and folding chairs, food and drink and children. Encourage people to bring food to share informally — it is a community pot luck in honor of Liberty. You can set up folding tables where people bring their food to share across race, class and party lines. People feel disconnected and powerless after random protest meetups. You want to foster community and let people find each other as local patriots and build bonds that make other kinds of action possible.
8. Invite local clergy of all faiths to sit down for the Constitution in their religious garb. Ask local clergy of many faiths to bless the gathering in their many voices from their many different faith traditions, thus reminding us that this is a pluralistic society (and making it hard to dismiss protests as hostile to mainstream values).
9. There can be periods of quiet or people simply playing their own music as an offering to the community during the Sit Down for the Constitution. Have children give five minute talks or read essays of `What America Means to Me.’ Have ONE lawyer who speaks ENGLISH explain every hour on the hour just what the Bill of Rights means to ordinary people. Endless speechifying exhausts people. You are there to be witnesses and to encounter one another as citizens. Have ONE table where local literature about activism is displayed and have people wear name tags that identify them by name and also by resource or skill or organization that they can contribute to saving democracy. Let them find one another. Give priority to vets or military men and women to speak very personally about what liberty and the Bill of Rights means to them — the values they wish to uphold.
10. At the end of the vigil, create a massive circle and light a million candles and ask everyone to take the AFC pledge to protect the Constitution. Say it together: it is powerful to hear the sound of a multiplied voice. Go home in a broad stream holding your candles — another great visual for the cameras. Meet again in a month. If you want to connect before that in a Citizens’ Home Gathering — which many people have asked for — let someone host it in his or her home or in a public space in a restaurant or friendly bookstore/cafe. Take citizen action out of an impersonal space — make citizenship human, face-to-face, easy, supportive and effective. You are Americans.