What bothers me started with news coverage of the Democratic Convention. Feature stories about people sleeping in, “the Freedom Cage.” That nomenclature was appalling. When I found out that was a sardonic renaming by those making use of it I wasn’t much happier, because the idea of a “free speech zone” is anathema to me.
I am an american citizen. In the boundaries of the United States there is no public place where I cannot speak my mind on matters political.
Congress shall make no law ... 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.
I can hear those who favor repression saying, “well this isn’t Congress,” or, more sophistically, “this wasn’t a law.” (which is nonsense. Those who did engage in protest, outside The Freedom Cage were gassed, harassed and no few of them were arrested. Further, the 14th amendment covers that little bit of logical perfidy, .... No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.. I compare it to the idea that, “money is speech,” and passing laws which restrict the flow of money to politicians is illegal, and the mind reels.
We can’t limit those who want to persuade people with gifts of money (and the strings attached to them) but sequestering those who want to talk... no strings attached, that’s just ducky. Fuck that noise.
I’ve come to expect this from the Republicans. As a party they seem opposed to democracy, (They, after all, staged a riot to stop a vote count) no matter what the rank and file understand to be the case. That the democrats have adopted some of their tools is disheartening.
Skip ahead to yesterday. I got an e-mail about a raids in St. Paul, on the location of a group known to be looking to protest. I forwarded it to a number of people, because I thought it even worse than the Freedom Cage.
When I thought it was just one incident I was bothered. Not quite enough to write about it, because there is only so much outrage I can exercise (feel yes, almost boundless. Take the time and energy to write about... there is only so much time in the day, and only so much I can do).
But then I saw some of the people I’d forwarded it too reporting on different raids. This was, it seems, a co-ordinated set of raids. A campaign. A campaign of the sort meant to suppress dissent. The use of state power to intimidate (If I were one of those people I’d worry what was being done to my computer while those (overbroad, I suspect) warrants were being served.
Since some accounts say the raids were executed without showing the warrant... the use of the police to intimidate is even more plain.
Whelan says his roommate, Erin Stalmaker, went out to talk to talk to the police. She asked the officers why they were there. The officers asked why people were running away from them. Erin reportedly told the officers that their drawn automatic weapons probably had something to do with it. She was detained after asking to see a warrant. (Majikthise has some other, really good, stuff. You ought to read her)
Glenn Greenwald reports that the only people arrested at one location were being charged with a really strange crime "conspiracy to commit riot.. Whoa... Conspiracy charges are problematic, in any case (really easy to set up, really hard to beat. An undercover cop talks to you, says it would be great to firebomb the cops at the convention, and molotov cocktails are easy to make. They only need gasoline, rags and empty bottles to do it. She comes back a couple of days later and asks if you can give her some empty bottles. Boom... conspiracy. Given the infiltration of, “terrorist groups” like Code Pink, Women in Black and the Quakers; such things are possible. Even if the inanity of the situation does get the case thrown out... defense lawyers aren’t free. Time in jail is time lost, and the opposition will just point to the “arrests for “x” as proof the groups really aren’t peaceful. Cops have incentive to make cases. It doesn’t require them to be evil, just human enough to worry about their jobs; back to the case at hand).
Greenwald also report that a raid was executed on a group which doesn’t protest, but observes protests to see that the cops aren’t going out of bounds. That one is even more worrisome. Not just because it’s an attempt to inhibit those who might attempt to fill the role asked after in the old phrase, quis custodiet ipsos custodes and watch the watchmen, but because, there was no warrant in that raid. They did, after things were underway, get a warrant FOR A DIFFERENT HOUSE.
The Uptake has this amazing video interview with the Democracy Now producer who was detained today. As the DN producer explains, she was present at a meeting of a group called "I-Witness" -- which videotaped police behavior at the 2004 GOP Convention in New York and helped get charges dismissed against hundreds of protesters who were arrested. The police surrounded the St. Paul house where they were meeting even though they had no warrant, told them that anyone who exited the house would be arrested, and then -- even though they finally, after several hours, obtained a warrant only for the house next door -- basically broke into the house, pointed weapons at everyone inside, handcuffed them, searched the house, and then left. Here is a blog post from one of the members of I-Witness asking for help during the time when they were forced to stay inside the house (see the second post -- it reads like a note from a hostage crying out for help). This is truly repugnant, extreme police behavior designed to intimidate protesters, police critics and others, and it ought to infuriate anyone and everyone who cares about basic liberties.
If that wasn't enough: It seems the Permibus a sustainable agriculture educational team was also targeted.
At approximately 6:25 pm on August 30, 2008 Minneapolis Police, Minnesota State Troopers, Ramsey County Sheriffs, Saint Paul Police, and University of Minnesota Police pulled over the Earth Activist Training Permaculture Demonstration Bus (Permibus) by exit 237 on Interstate 94. Initially the police told the people on the bus to exit. When the people on the bus asked if they were being detained they were told that they were but police were unable to provide justification. When asked why they pulled the bus over they refused to answer. After repeated requests to explain why the bus had been stopped Officer Honican of the Minneapolis Police explained that this was just a routine traffic stop though he did not explain the reason for the traffic stop. The police then told Stan Wilson, the driver and registered owner of the Permibus, that they were going to impound the bus in case they wanted to execute a search warrant later. After more than an hour of being questioned by Stan and Delyla Wilson as to the legalities of their detainment and the impoundment of the Permibus, the police then informed Stan that the bus, which is legally registered as a passenger vehicle in the state of Montana, was being impounded for a commercial vehicle inspection. Shortly afterward Sergeant Paul Davis, a commercial vehicle inspector arrived on scene. Despite the polices insistence that the reason for impoundment was for a commercial vehicle inspection the Permibus crew were not allowed to remove anything from the bus including computers, toiletries, and 17-year-old Megan Wilson's shoes. The police finally allowed the animals to be removed from the Permibus before it was towed, leaving the Permibus family standing beside their chickens and dogs, homeless on the highway.
This shit has to stop. The first step is to get the Republicans out of the White House, and remove their ability to engage in effective obstruction in the Senate. I don’t really like one party rule, but right now a house-cleaning has to be done.
After that... the activism can’t stop. The last mandate we handed the Dems has been squanderd (there was no need for Reid to let several bills go to the floor. When he said there was nothing to do, he was wrong. He knows he was wrong. He was caving into the Republican narrative, and that’s got to stop too). We can do this. It takes will.
It takes being willing to stand up and be counted. It takes making the number of houses, and meetings and spontaneous protests to be raided and suppressed too many for the press to ignore. It will involve being vilified. The right will call you an anarchist. They will say you are anti-american. They will say this sort of thing isn’t that bad.
They will say all this while they piously recall how the Administration protested the way the Chinese inhibited protest during the Olympics.
The only way to keep it from happening here, it to stand up and be counted.