Under the guise of concerns about “public health and safety,” mayor after mayor ordered police to tear down encampments—a curious justification after the years of cuts to public hospitals, heating subsidies and homeless shelters that have actually endangered “public health and safety” for millions of Americans.
The total number of arrests of Occupy activists now stands at 6,475 and counting.
The treatment of the Occupy movement by elected officials and law enforcement sends an unmistakable message: Sure, you have the right to free speech, but once you try to use it, we will do all we can to stop you.
Part of this assault has involved elected officials—most of them members of the Democratic Party, which claims to stand for the rights of working people—bending the laws to ensure they can crack down on demonstrators at will.
In Chicago, where the NATO military alliance and G8 club of powerful governments is due to meet in a joint summit in May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel went the furthest—under the proposals he drove through the City Council, it’s a violation of the law, for example, for two people to carry a banner or sound amplification device that wasn’t described in a permit application filed months ahead of time.
On New Year’s Eve, Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, giving him the power to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely, without charges. This was a new milestone in the assault on civil liberties inaugurated by George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” but continued under the Democratic Obama administration.
During this same period, the federal government disbursed more than $34 billion in grants to help transform local police departments into small armies, equipped with military-grade hardware. Under the guise of equipping themselves for “terror scenarios,” even sleepy towns like Fargo, N.D., have acquired armored personnel carriers, assault rifles and Kevlar helmets. Montgomery County, Texas, now deploys a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, just like the ones the U.S. military uses in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
No one seriously considers Fargo a target for “terrorists,” begging the question of why cities with budget crises would want to bear the enormous expense of acquiring and maintaining such arsenals.
The answer is that the emergence of a powerful social movement at a time of social crisis is precisely the “threat” for which they have been preparing.
Make no mistake that we have the right, on paper, to express ourselves and assemble as long as it is not ruled a ‘clear and present danger’. There is not question, though, that in practice we have no such right. We cannot criticize our politicians to their face without being accused of assault, we can’t assemble on public property, and verbal criticisms of police leave the critics in handcuffs and the onlookers threatened with a shotgun.
These freedoms will never be regained unless we can find a way to elect someone other than the American aristocracy- the politicians and bureaucrats within the two party system.