Sarah Palin asked the question right the beginning of her speech at the Teabagger Convention – “Do you love your freedom?”
It got the expected roar of response. This softball was itself a lead in to her call for the attendees to thank the veterans present, making the implicit link between our freedoms and the military might to defend them.
But the more I think of freedom, I wonder what most people know of it. Aside from being something that clearly needs to be defended with an enormous amount of weaponry, how does it manifest itself in our society? When people say they love freedom, what are they are loving?
I would contend most people love freedom in the same way they would love a picture of a beautiful person of the opposite sex. I can gaze adoringly at a picture of Miss March 1998, and imagine the totally hot sex I would have with her. And I can cling to that fantasy right up to the point where I run into her and am forced to confront the reality that I’m a middle aged man who grosses her out and I love my wife anyway. But in any event, any encounter with reality ruins the fantasy – immediately.
That’s a large part of the reason why I protested at the last Republican National Convention, to find out how much of what I thought about freedom was a fantasy. It was quite the bucket of cold water, both in terms of my own experiences and the stories I was told by more seasoned protesters. Since then, I’ve tried to be more vigilant, to pay attention to how the protest landscape is changing.
What I’ve found is an alarming set of forces, all pointing in the direction of decreased freedom, decreased democracy. One of the most important is the criminalization of dissent. From the institution of the noxious and oxymoronic “free speech zones,” to the largescale infiltration of peace and justice groups (esp. those with histories of civil disobedience) by government agents, and the rise of fusion centers to coordinate regional spying on Americans, many things are converging to entrench existing power structures at the precise moment when they’re establishing their inability to self-correct.
Which brings us to our fantasy relationship with Lady Liberty. It’s easy to love L.L. from afar. Listening to people talk pretty about your girl on the 4th of July and Veteran’s Day – not to mention the towering heights politicos ascend during election seasons. Yeah, Land of the Fucking Free, that’s MY gal.
But like my relationship with Mrs. March, it will not survive you actually meeting the object of your ardor. The state I watched surround an under-attended family “Peace Picnic” across the river from the RNC with troopers in riot gear is very confident, and it has every reason to be. It has vast resources, advanced weapons and spy equipment, and debased privacy laws. In St Paul, protesters were gassed at the end of the Poor People’s March while doing their best to disperse. They were making every attempt to leave peacefully and were faced with lines of advancing cops shooting tear gas every direction they turned. It was shoot first ask questions later – just gas this time.
At the recent G20 summit, a protester was arrested for tweeting orders to disperse the police were shouting through a bullhorn. It’s hard to imagine more public information. The police later raided the vicious tweeter’s apartment and carted away numerous personal possessions for examination – including an afghan a family member had knitted him.
The CIA is investing heavily in companies that do data mining on social sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Our constitutional lawyer president shows no interest in overturning the FISA legislation he once promised Russ Feingold he’d help filibuster, but then later voted for. We also have recent reassurances that our extra-judicial assassination program is alive and well, as well as our torture program, though transported to Afghanistan now and decentralized for additional secrecy.
No wonder this administration is not going after Bush era officials for torture, since they surely know the current administration is continuing their policies. Heard Cheney growl about this topic lately? It’s as dead as Michael Jackson.
But most people are unaware of all this. They’re too busy trying to hang on to their shitty job with minimal benefits. They wouldn’t protest even if they had the time because modern families have no resiliency. Most families are now budgeted for 2 paychecks each week all year long. Neither earner can be out of work for any substantial amount of time, or the family unit starts to go under. Also, people have fewer and fewer rights at the workplace. For these and other reasons (like the current high unemployment rate) people are very risk averse.
They’ve also heard little bits and pieces of the things I’ve mentioned, or different things, like the building the size of the Superdome the NSA is constructing to house all the information they’re gathering on…well, who the fuck knows? They’re the NSA, good luck finding out.
Everyone’s seen some coverage, maybe a protest march dissolving into tear gas and running people, or people lined up on the ground with zipwire handcuffs – bits and pieces. Not enough to make them lose faith in the system, but certainly enough to make them a little afraid. And a little fear can be a powerful thing. It can be a powerful persuader; it can break ties.
Let’s go back to our fantasy. Miss March comes to my town promoting her new book, “Spreading Sugar: A Metatextual Analysis of Strindberg.” Unfortunately, while clicking on articles about her (mostly to find new pictures) I also find out that she’s…well…not very nice. Selfish, nasty, demeaning – basically, nobody has anything nice to say about her. Am I more likely to go to her booksigning and confront her with my true feelings, or stay at home with my increasingly tattered Playboy and my fantasy of the life we’d have together?
Have you tried telling Lady Liberty that gown makes her butt look big? If you did, you might find out she’s not the forgiving dame you always imagined she was. The point is, until you tell her something she doesn’t want to hear, it’s pointless to say you know how she’s going to react. Put more plainly: Until you’re in the street saying something power doesn’t want to hear, until you actually use your freedoms, you can’t say you know what the state of freedom in this country is.