States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions.~ Noam Chomsky
States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions.~ Noam Chomsky
Here is a lecture from Binghamton University on April 2, 2008.
>Did Canada just promise to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gases and pay their climate debt? It looks like it:
Will the real Canada please stand up:
Oops, its the Yes Men being, well, the Yes men.
I feel rather sorry for Uganda, but not for Canada.
>I am reading the book Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World by Rex Weyler, and thoroughly enjoying it. I have to say the more I learn about Greenpeace the more I like them. And like so many other things in my life, I think I know something until I start reading about it, then I realize what I assumed turns out to be different from the truth, or at least a skewed facsimile.
Also, I recently came across this video of a Greenpeace direct action campaign in England. I would encourage anyone to take the time to view it.
Not only do I like their spirit, but there is something fundamentally human about what they did. As a parent I look to the future for my children and I wonder what kind of world will they live in, and will that world be one where greed, power, and selfishness prevail, or will it be a world where the basic needs of human life take precedence over corporate profits? It’s easy to get sappy, and I can’t say I’m an expert on either global warming or pollution, but I have to say one thing my MBA taught me is that you cannot trust any publicly traded corporation to willingly diminish it potential profits for the sake of my wellbeing, your wellbeing, or the wellbeing of my children and yours.
>We glorify the protests of the past. We have seen (or remember) the civil rights marches, the sit-ins and other actions. We remember the anti-war movement. We remember May 1968 and other important dates. But where are we today? Remember the huge global anti-war protests just prior to the invasion of Iraq. Or the mass protests at the Republican convention. Remember the police crackdown on the protesters? It was like clockwork, surgical, carefully crafted like extraordinary rendition. But it also got violent at times – the anti-riot police were the ones who typically led with the violence. And recently we saw the same thing at the G20 protests in Pittsburgh. But, like the protests of the romantic past, we once again wonder at the role of the police and the individual choices of each officer.
Check out this video and ask yourself what is really going on.
ROBERT SIEGEL (host): And have the protests been going on throughout the entire city?
SCOTT DETROW (on scene reporter): They have. After the tear gas, the march broke into many small groups. It stayed out of downtown, from what we can tell. Police are responding by breaking up these clumps of protesters. I saw one after the tear gas was fired. They were peacefully marching down the street and police officers swarmed the block from all directions. They got out of the car and they just pushed the protesters into side streets, and that’s what they’ve been doing. There have been arrests here and there, we’re hearing from other news outlets. But that seems to only be happening when marchers are directly confronting police officers. For the most part, police are just trying to show a presence and trying to get these marchers to break up on their own.
I find both the video clip and the NPR report fascinating, not because they are anything special, but because they say a lot about the structures of power that we have come to view as normal. But should they be normal? Consider the situation: A group of representatives from the richest and most powerful nations on earth come together to discuss the future for all of us. But the the G20 has been around for some time already and the world is in trouble with widening gaps between rich and poor, increasing corporate control over such basic things as water rights, food distribution, farmer’s crops, and of course the economy. In fact, it could be said the recent bailouts of large companies around the world represent a kind of coup d’état. It may just be that the current economic crisis (and the steps to remedy it with tax dollars) is evidence of the increasing loss of real power on the part of the government (a government of the people) over the economic/big business sector.
Consider this exchange from Michael Moore’s Capitalism a Love Story:
MICHAEL MOORE: We’re here to get the money back for the American People. Do you think it’s too harsh to call what has happened here a coup d’état? A financial coup d’état?
MARCY KAPTUR (Representative from Ohio): That’s, no. Because I think that’s what’s happened. Um, a financial coup d’état?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.
MARCY KAPTUR: I could agree with that. I could agree with that. Because the people here really aren’t in charge. Wall Street is in charge.
Given our democratic ideals the situation looks grim. One could easily see the recent election as a kind of sham (as are most elections but especially this one), a game those in power managed in order to help all of us feel like we participated in their power play. Maybe democracy as it’s been sold to us is a way to tie us up with mythological fairly tales so that the powerful few remain in power. So why would not people peacefully (or even angrily) march down the streets where the G20 is being held to protest? And why wouldn’t those marchers see the police as something like turncoats?
And this brings me to more questions: Why do police (working class men and women apparently there to uphold basic freedoms of speech, especially when it is most needed) seem to automatically view protesters and demonstrators as enemies and radical provocateurs? Are they trained to think that way? Or is it something closer to social influence and group think? Why, when anti-riot forces come out in overwhelming force, they end up being the group most prone to violence? Could it be something like the old adage, ‘to the man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail?’
Why does our society accept as normal such activities as the use of tear gas, batons, knocking people to the ground, tasers and rubber bullets, and now anti-riot siren devices, by police against weaponless, non-violent protesters? What is the psychology?
I won’t pretend to have the answers to these questions. However, when I see the way the police in this country deal with protesters I cannot help but be reminded of some very famous sociological studies, horrific events, and historic observations. My point here is not to equate actions so much as highlighting the way the human mind works in various situations.
I have come to believe the actions of police toward protesters reflects aspects of all these sociological and psychological characteristics found in the list above – though to a substantially lesser degree in some cases. But there is one other factor that possibly plays to largest role, that of hegemony.
Now hegemony is a good college level word for why people acquiesce, and even embrace, the power structures that control, and even sometimes enslave, them. If you did not study the word in college you may remember when Hugo Chavez touted the book Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky when he spoke at the U.N.
Chavez aside, the concept of hegemony, first proposed by Antonio Gramsci as a way of trying to understand why the working classes did not rise up against their oppressors as the Marxists predicted, is a way to understand how the powerful persuade the less powerful to adopt the values of the ruling class. We live in a country that denies the existence of class structures in terms of power. We speak of middle class or working class merely as sympathetic terms used by politicians to manipulate votes. We do not accept the concept of a ruling class, but maybe we should.
In the videos on this page look at the faces of the police (the ones not wearing Darth Vader masks). There is a lot of anger in their eyes. I wonder if the anger comes from an internal struggle. I can only hope. I imagine the police feel a tension between the hierarchies of power they have come to believe must be protected (of which they are sworn to uphold) and their deeply internal sense of humanity and their belief in democracy (an understanding of which was probably formed in grade school like it was for most of us). They are caught in the clash of values, but they are a group operating with broad impunity and supported by the social dynamic of being able to hide within the apparent pawnship of their job. So they continue to manhandle, arrest, and attack the protesters. But their anger gives them away. They are alienated from the power they protect, and suppressing the very voices that are pointing out that alienation. That would make just about anyone angry.
Consider this video of another protest. If not for the police intervention it would almost be humorous.
I cannot imagine a less threatening protest. In fact I find it almost comical. Why then the overwhelming police force? Are they afraid of another Battle in Seattle? Clearly this is an example of those in power acting out of fear, but what do they fear? In fact, the whole thing has a kind of choreographed arc that not only speaks of a profound lack of imagination on both sides, but indicates the protest may be as much a product of hegemony as the police presence.
What do we do with all this? First, we should not romanticize the past. The efforts of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the past were often heroic, but they were also brutal and scary at times. People were seriously hurt and some died. Many went to prison. And we should know that external actions come from what is inside, but also know that one’s external actions affects one’s soul. The police who give in to the psychosis of power, abuse other humans, act out of anger, and stand in the way of freedoms that are not given by governments but only taken away, those police are damaging their own souls. And they are human just like me – frail, prone to delusion, living in a powerful culture, needed to be loved, and wanting to do what is right. We should not feel sorry for them, but we should empathize.
The fact is many of the above sociological/psychological concerns raised about police action can apply to the protesters. At times it appears some of the protesters are seeking to recreate a May ’68 kind of experience for their own pleasure. I wonder how many made the effort to reach out to the police in the days or weeks prior to their marches. I wonder how many pre-judged the police as irredeemable, in part because it is both the easier route and less romantic than manning the barricades. This is one reason that, while I support the protesters in general, I think the predictable protests outside every G20, G7, World Bank, etc., meeting may be as much a symbol of failure as righteous anger. We need more than theater, we need transformation.
Finally, we are all in this thing called life together, whether we want to admit that or not. It’s easy to march, easy to crack skulls, and very easy to write blog posts, and it’s difficult to love, forbear, and forgive.
Consider these quotes:
“The great and chief end…of men’s uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”~ John Locke, 1689
“But as the necessity of civil government gradually grows up with the acquisition of valuable property, so the principal causes which naturally introduce subordination gradually grow up with the growth of that valuable property.”~ Adam Smith, 1776
“Till there be property there can be no government, the very end of which is to secure wealth, and to defend the rich from the poor.”~ Adam Smith, 1776
If you didn’t know who wrote these words you might think they were from the pen of Karl Marx. Interesting. More substantive than economic systems and their ideologies (and their debates) is the concentration of power and its supporting hegemonies. In other words its all about who inherits the earth and how they keep it. Little do they know…
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. ”~ Jesus, c. 30
The gentle, or meek, have a different relationship to property and wealth than those who climb over others to make the world their own. It is not that they do not want the world, it is that they recognize having the world for their own is not worth being the kind of person who has no interest in loving others as their primary motivation. To love the world is to give up loving people. It is not a good trade – no matter how free the market. Gaining the world is not worth a lousy character, and no amount of economic ideology can convince otherwise.
Questions of character are always personal, but what about our institutions of power? We live in a world that places a kind of sacred halo around the idea of private property. We know that the Declaration of Independence almost contained the phrase “life, liberty and the protection of property.” I don’t want anyone to take my home away from me, but I have to think that the ownership of property and all its attendant rights (real or perceived) only gets understood as sacred in a world that has turned its back on truth. The irony is not merely that to gain the whole world is to lose one’s soul, but also to gain one’s soul is to gain the world.
There is that old adage that all governments lie. It is just as true that governments, first and foremost, exist to protect the haves and the things they own. Only secondarily, and usually through great struggle, are benefits secured for the have-nots.
I stand, in spirit, with the protesters who call for change and accountability from our governments and the captains of industry. I stand against the obvious seeking of power and influence for selfish ends. I stand against clearcutting forests and mountain top removal mining, and against the pollution of our air and water, and against insurance companies managing our healthcare, and subsidies to weapons manufacturers and to farmers of vast genetically modified monocultures. And I stand against the use of violence to solve problems, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The list can go on and on.) On the other hand, I cannot demand that those in power give up the world, as it were, so that I might have it instead. Though my power and influence is small, I am not morally superior than they. Rather, they must give up the world because it does not belong to them.
>I knew next to nothing about Walter Wink until recently. Now I have become a fan.
>We know this country has become polarized on multiple levels. We know that a thriving democracy is a struggle. But we also know that there is a difference between the messiness of democratic action and the actions of heavy handed social control. Sometimes (usually) messiness is better, though it is unpredictable.
With this in mind I have been curious about the two big political party conventions and the manner in which those with the guns and body armor are going to support democracy. The Democratic National Convention seemed to go off without a hitch. They even opened up a giant stadium to let in everyone they could. The Republican National Convention (RNC) is another story. So far there have been numerous riots, police violence, and arrests.
Question: Should police use force against peaceful political protesters? I can understand trying to stop violent protesters from hurting others or damaging property – though property is not so nearly as sacred as human life or well being. Although I am against violence I am not against being rowdy and noisy for important social and political concerns. Consider this video* of police attacking apparently peaceful protesters at the RNC:
What you see in this clip are people walking along a street. What you also see and hear are heavily armored police officers shooting some of the walkers with rubber bullets, which is even more aggressive than hitting someone with a baton in my opinion. The police also use tear gas to split up the crowd. I cannot tell exactly what is was these particular walkers were doing that was so bad, but I doubt rubber bullets and tear gas was necessary… unless the goal is to make sure, with complete certainty, that the hierarchies of power remain intact and understood.
Or consider this video clip that hearkens back to those flower-power protest images from the 1960s:
I cannot say the woman in the green tank-top is acting in the most wise manner (at least for her own safety), but take a moment to compare the dress and collective action of the two different kinds of people in this video. One group seems rather loosely organized at best, wearing ordinary street clothes, and looking much like you and your friends. The other group is clad head-to-toe in black armor (rainbow plaid armor is not nearly as menacing), is fully organized into a phalanx, and is looking like extras from a Robocop movie. Honestly, I bet they love putting on that stuff.
Democracy is messy. Protest are necessary. Violence should be avoided. And people should be able to march up and down the streets without fear of tear gas, rubber bullets, or menacing storm troopers inciting violence. (I say inciting because their very presence, demeanor, and visual appearance is designed to be threatening.) I cannot help but think of some police officer yelling “This is no time for democracy, this the the Republican National Convention!” Or, the police thinking these protesters are stupid idiots for showing up with flowers to a tear gas fight.
But other interesting things have been happening related to the RNC. These include the raiding of homes of “suspected” protesters, such as in this video:
In light of that video remember these important words:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (Amendment 4 to the U.S. Constitution)
Has line been crossed here? I can’t say for sure, but seems likely. I doubt there was probable cause.
And there was the raiding of homes of “suspected” journalists (who WERE journalists), such as in this video:
In light of this raid consider these important words:
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. (Amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution)
Has line been crossed here? Looks probable.
Police also confiscated citizen journalists’ cameras and computers, as described in this video:
What is going on here? What is the answer to the question: Why are these police actions necessary? What is being protected? What is gained?
Not necessarily more important than the above situations and police actions, but certainly very critical when it comes to the importance and necessity of a free press in a democracy, here is a clip of the intrepid Amy Goodman of Democracy Now being arrested for investigating the brutal arrest of her producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar:
And here is the video taken by Nicole Salazar as she was beaten and thrown to the ground by police even though she was telling them she was Press and was clearly wearing her Press card around her neck.
One can only conclude one of three things: 1) The safety of the police and of others was so grave that the police had no other choice but to treat her that way, 2) the police became so angry that their emotions made them act irrationally, or 3) there is a planned and concerted effort to intimidate and control any media that does not conform to the predictable and safe (to the established hierarchy of power) norms as exhibited by the major networks. The first choice is, at best, a stretch, and mostly likely ludicrous. The second choice is probably partly true, but too many law enforcement individuals were involved for it to merely be runaway emotions. The third is the most likely scenario, and is born of fear. And fear is one of the greatest threats to democracy.
A whole lot of questions are raised by these video clips, and there are many more videos of the same. I would argue that we are witnessing a time in which a sector of the population is living in fear that their world will not last, and that sector are those currently in positions of power. This may or may not be true. I also believe, however, that this is really nothing new. We have seen this many times before in this country in many different forms. In fact, that is part and parcel of the story of humankind.
Keep this in mind, if a free press is critical for a thriving democracy then it will, by definition and implication, be a threat to someone. If a democracy is threatening to those who need predictable power to get and keep what they want, then, logically a free press is a threat to those people. What do we have if we don’t have a free press? Do we have a democracy?
* Several of the video clips above were produced by The Uptake.