The History of Breaking Up Protests Before They Can Happen, How Cops Have Spent Years Squashing the Right to Assembly and Free Speech
Today Jane and Lindsay — together with Glenn Greenwald, Twin Cities Indymedia, and Pacifica — gave us compelling reports from the Twin Cities: frontline du jour in corporatist America’s seemingly endless War On The Commons. Congress – with eager support from Senator Amy Klobuchar – put out a trough of 50 million dollars to pull local "law" enforcement into the RNC feeding frenzy. As Amy K helpfully pointed out, Congress also set out 50 million troughs for local cops before the nominating convention in Denver last week and those in Boston and New York in 2004. That’s on top of the tens (hundreds?) of millions for the Federal "Fusion Centers" and the FBI,
Fatherland Homeland Security, Secret Service, and our very own Pentagon’s Northcom — the domestic strong arm of General Smedley Butler’s enforcement racket—to criminalize public assembly and speech during yet another major party coronation. Why do America’s corporatist controlled organs of "State Security" need to pay hundreds of millions every four years to keep paper maché puppets off the streets and out of the parks?
Today in the Twin Cities and last week in Denver—just as in New York and Boston in 2004 and LA and Philly in 2000—the nominating
conventions pageants’ "law" enforcement sit below the Department of the Treasury’s Secret Service in the power pyramid. That’s why every time local citizens and demo organizers go to Federal court to beg for some shard of the First Amendment to cover a "permitted" march route near the convention sites, their attorneys end up hearing the Secret Service has the final say in "security" decisions affecting the conventions. No surprise, then, that when local Twin Cities "law" enforcement went on a round-up rampage today, FBI and Fatherland Homeland Security were right there with the locals for (yet another) warrantless search.
I co-coordinated medical support for the April, 2000 IMF/WB protests in DC and served both on the "convergence space" organizing committee and as co-coordinator for medical support for the 2000 DNC protests in LA. There I and many others saw the same pattern of joint Federal/local "law" enforcement taking very deliberate and illegal actions that effectively pre-empted peaceful, legal public gatherings opposing corporatist rule and official enforcement of corporate edicts. The pattern of illegal mass arrests, searches, seizures, and harassment repeats across time (NYC pulled the same tricks for the 2004 RNC as they did for 2002 protests against the Iraq invasion; over the last eight years, DC has often repeated the same techniques to suppress public assembly they were successfully sued for in 2000). The pattern of illegal mass arrests and mass violent assaults upon peaceably assembled people by local "law" enforcement subordinate to the Secret Service repeats across time, with the LAPD and Philly PD in 2000, and NYC PD in 2004 all assaulting non-violent gatherings associated with convention protests.
Of all these assaults, the LAPD’s deliberate use of "less than lethal" weapons on three sides of a large permitted concert to turn the permitted area and the sole route of escape into a free-fire zone is still the most egregious. Who says LA doesn’t know how to put on a show?
By all accounts, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher is a vicious man and a nasty piece of work. He—and local "law" enforcement tyrants like him — are necessary and useful idiots in the larger pattern I’ve seen in America over the nearly nine years since the Seattle WTO protests. That pattern, however, didn’t start in Seattle. The prodigious use of chemical weapons against civilians in Seattle — the largest use of chemical weapons on our soil in American history—didn’t just fall out of the nozzle that day. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s choice to torture non-violent forest protectors by painting "pepper spray" on their eyes helped open the nozzles. [Humboldt County — in California’s "Deep North"—ended up losing a Federal Court civil suit, though by the time the derisory damages of one dollar came down, Seattle had already gassed their people.]
On a broader level, joint Federal/local violent force directed against social justice activists characterized much of the civil rights movement, and, before that, organized labor’s struggle. Of course, that long history of violence grew out of the legalized genocide and oppression that brought the attempted annihilation of North America’s First Peoples and the enslavement of Africans and others in the colonies and then in America.
Who benefited? Who benefits? From the destruction of the First Peoples up through the corporatists’ sustained and massive assault on our public institutions and public resources over the past forty years, the answer is the same: the wealthiest of the wealthy. The plantation owners, the mine owners, Big Cattle, Big Pork, Big War Machines, Big Surveillance Machines, Big Serial Poisoners…and now, Big Mercenaries.
What possible evidence suggests our very own public servants — the Congresscritters we seem to love so much the incumbents enjoy more than a 90% chance to return to Village service with each election — what possible evidence suggests these august tribunes of the Republic would criminalize the commons and public dissent to protect the megacorps? Who could believe such a slander?
Well, anyone familiar with the American Legislative Exchange Council: the megacorps’ wholly owned think tank that "ghostwrites" civil and criminal legislation for obedient local, state, and Federal "representatives" to put on the law books. ALEC and the corporatists’ wholly owned Congresscritters just criminalized the lunch counter sit-ins and other non-violent tactics the civil rights movement used. ALEC also wrote the laws our servile Congresscritters signed to make non-violent defense of our shared commons a Federal felony, punishable by years in Federal prison.
What are "the commons"? The commons are the public spaces, rights of way, lands, institutions, and resources we all must share, and must preserve for furture generations to share.
A century ago, Americans who challenged corporate control and plutocrat ownership of civil society, public institutions, and the commons were derided as "anarchists" and mercilessly hunted by "law" enforcement and Pinkerton (the Blackwater of that era). After 1917, Americans who challenged corporatist rule and plutocrat rulers were hunted for being "communists". A decade or so ago, Americans who worked for social justice to oppose corporatist misrule were once again "anarchists". Today in the Twin Cities, we see that Americans who peacefully come together to feed one another, heal one another, document one another’s struggles, and work together to preserve our wounded planet, ailing nation, and suffering people from corporatist domination and endless war are "terrorists".
How do we know? Why, the same traveling Federal propaganda show that makes the circuit preaching the gospel of fear and paranoia to local "law" enforcement before each major public protest of the last nine years tells us so. You know, the same Federal apparatchniks we can trust to change threat colors before elections, listen to our phones, read our email and letters,
rendition abduct and illegally transport innocent civilians, torture innocent people, imprison children, and conduct secret show trials.
We can trust them, right? Sure, if we want to stand in line for handouts like the apparently power-mad Sheriff of Ramsey County and his uniformed mob.
Uh – no thanks. I’ll stand with three centuries of Americans who have worked to expand the franchise and diffuse power — peacefully and non-violently. Standing with the global justice movement may mean sending money or people to the Twin Cities protests…and the protests that are to come. Standing with the global justice movement may mean supporting the ACLU, NLG, Civil Liberties Defense Center, Partnership For Civil Justice, Food Not Bombs, Seeds of Peace, Ruckus Society, or even EarthFirst! — all groups that work to keep open the door for public protest and non-violent dissent.
In the end, the strongest stand we can take to reclaim our Republic, protect our Constitution, continue three centuries of empowerment, and support the social justice movement is the stand we take with our own two feet. We might stand in the soup kitchen, or in the medic stations. We might stand with the legal observers, or the media observers. We might stand with the marchers — or stand to open our front doors and back doors and garages when they are beaten or gassed off the streets. Or stand to open our places of worship and other sanctuaries to the innocent people fleeing the tyranny of mass arrest and mass raids.
Why stand together with them? Should we fail, we will only live in fear of the corporatist tyranny that can and does show the power to snatch us away, serially and separately.
The Twin Cities show us all one future. Together, we can choose another.