By David Swanson
The number and variety of the excuses for failing, in various ways, to resist the transition we are in from democratic republic to dictatorship never ceases to amaze me. A lot of the time I imagine that Congress members hold all the prizes in this regard, with perhaps some dishonorable mentions for party leaders and directors of national activist organizations. But I’ve been repeatedly jolted out of that notion by being involved in specific plans to organize protests, most recently protests being planned for Bush’s Fourth of July visit to my town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Some vaguely left of center Congress members have used some pretty crazy justifications for not impeaching Bush or Cheney, such as that doing so would lead them to abuse power further, call off elections, and institute martial law. But at least such a thing is possible. Compared to some of the excuses that ordinary people come up with not to act, that excuse is practically a model of logic and determination. For example, there are leftist activists who will refuse to protest Bush during his visit to Thomas Jefferson’s house because Jefferson owned slaves. Those planning to protest, of course, praise Jefferson’s role in drafting the Declaration of Independence, and criticize Bush’s record as matching almost point for point the list of indictments in that document. This citing of Jefferson’s writing is radically interpreted into a defense of everything Jefferson ever did. Ergo protesting Bush equals promoting slavery. Never mind that most places Bush goes to speak have some sort of negative history (often not as bad as slavery), and the major protest in Charlottesville is being planned for the road approaching Jefferson’s abode since most protesters will not be able to get anywhere near the house. And never mind the existence of slavery in Bush’s America, Bush’s Iraq, and nations negatively impacted by Bush’s policies.
Congress members frequently cite their fear of the media as justification for not acting. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers never fails to include fear of the media in his list of excuses for not impeaching. Never mind that being attacked by the corporate media for defending the Constitution would be political gold; fear does not permit clear thinking. And fear of bad PR drives the most prominent excuses among individuals for leaving our war-criminal president in peace on Independence Day. Bush will be speaking at Monticello as part of a naturalization ceremony for new citizens. Of course, this is one of the few respectable things Bush has ever been associated with. Some of us (though not necessarily those using this as an excuse) would like to drastically alter his policies to allow many more people to have the opportunity to become citizens, not to mention ceasing to turn so many countries into places from which people flee in search of work or safety. There are various flavors of opposition to protesting Bush because new citizens are being “naturalized.” There are those who believe it’s more important to make sure no new citizen is disturbed by the protest than it is to protest Bush. But more numerous are those who believe it would be bad PR to be attacked by the corporate media as disruptors of a ceremony for immigrants (the corporate media’s love for whom is so well known).
But Bush will be making a speech which attendees could interrupt, if they choose, without interrupting the ceremony, which will probably come after the speech. There is no reason to think the majority of those being “naturalized” don’t oppose Bush as much as everyone else. There is no reason to think they won’t join in a protest. And protesting on the road outside, which is where most of the protesting will happen, won’t disturb them. Bush is killing people every day, in Iraq and elsewhere. It is hard to justify placing the lives of those victims below the undisturbed ceremony of a small number of new citizens. Isn’t it more important to do everything we can that might help save lives? The new citizens are going to care more about becoming citizens than about the ceremony, and many of them will probably be grateful or join in if Bush is protested.
In addition, there is something very fitting, not just justifiable, about protesting Bush at a ceremony where people are forced to swear to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the land. Bush routinely violates both. Living up to their newly sworn duty will oblige the new citizens, just as the rest of us are obliged, to push in every way possible for Bush’s impeachment. So, a chant of “Defend the Constitution! Impeach Bush!” would actually communicate an appropriate message, exercising the right we used to have under the First Amendment while fulfilling the duty we still have to defend a nation of laws, not men.
Of course, any particular protest of Bush will not – on its own – guarantee his impeachment or achieve peace or justice anywhere in the world. But the cumulative effect of acts of resistance is the only chance we have at avoiding utter tyranny. Nonetheless, those who tend to think as amateur PR agents, are placing the importance of not disturbing a naturalization event so far above the importance of resisting fascism, that they are equating anyone who would contemplate such a thing (even on the road outside) with a preacher who would shout for the death of gays at the funeral of a gay man, or with someone who would scream in a fit of anger and literally frighten his daughter to death. You can’t make this stuff up. You can find it (and add your own comment, although if you sound too peaceful they’ll delete it) on a Charlottesville website: http://www.cvillenews.com You’ll find people making zero effort to persuade Monticello to uninvite Bush (of course plans for as big a protest as possible is the best leverage we have), zero effort to use the opportunity to speak against Bush in the media, and zero effort to promote the protest on the road outside, but every effort to attack the idea of protesting at Bush’s speech, and most of that effort presented as paternalistically for the good of the poor misguided would-be protesters.
Just as Congress members claim they would hurt the cause of peace by ceasing to fund war, or set back the cause of justice by impeaching a president who openly flaunts the law, ordinary citizens as often as not have persuaded themselves that standing up for a good cause will hurt that very cause. And sitting down for it would be even worse. That is to say, nonviolent civil disobedience is understood as so distasteful as to injure whatever cause it is used to promote, and other activities are preemptively denounced as potentially damaging if they might inconvenience innocent people or otherwise cause offense. As part of this trend, the notion has spread throughout the activist community, and especially the non-activist community, in America that the most effective form of activism is silence. We do silent vigils with great seriousness and solemnity, unwittingly obliging those who do not want our viewpoints articulated out loud. One brave soul expressed his disappointment that he would not be attending Bush’s speech, because – while he opposed any protest that might be heard – he had been looking forward to … – drumroll, please – … withholding his applause.
Congress members, of course, will tell you that they have other priorities. They need to focus on grilling steroid-popping baseball players or getting bills vetoed or stripping us of our Fourth Amendment. But individuals refuse to resist the criminal regime of Bush and Cheney because they want to focus on local problems – most of which, when examined, are at least in a large way the disastrous results of national policies. Even activist groups say they have other priorities and are just too busy. Other individuals want to focus on their personal lives and go so far as to recommend “looking within yourself” to solve the problems of the world. Trust me, if that worked, America would be a paradise on earth already.
Congress members claim they don’t have the votes to pass impeachment, while of course they would if Pelosi and Conyers, and others using this excuse, promoted impeachment. More frightening is the attitude among members of the public who claim that they should not resist injustice because doing so would probably not make it end right away. Of course not. These struggles take time, but refusing to engage in them assures defeat in the short term and the long term.
Oh, and some individuals refuse to resist Bush because of Congress’ complicity in his crimes. (As if that somehow exonerates Bush or inaction somehow benefits the victims of the crimes.) And, of course, the leading excuse for not doing anything, among the powerful or those who parrot them, is that eventually an election will solve everything, so there’s really no point in doing anything until after the election – and at that point there will be no need. But we’ve never won anything significant by electing a savior, even to the position of emperor. And that’s the problem. We no longer elect Congress members. We elect people to a royal court or a debate society. And we no longer elect presidents. We elect people to a position of absolute power. Bush has given himself and every future president the power to ignore laws, adhere to secret laws, rewrite laws, and openly or secretly violate any law at his whim. He’s stripped us of habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights. He’s taken on the power to spy without warrants, detain without charge, torture, murder, and lie us into wars of aggression. He’s abandoned American towns and cities to hurricanes and floods, and shipped thousands of soldiers to their deaths on a mission that has slaughtered over a million innocent human beings, a mission that is ongoing and worsening as we speak (or fail to). Senator John McCain celebrates Bush’s record and now proclaims himself a fan of torture. Senator Barack Obama says he will cease to commit some of Bush’s crimes, though not the big ones, and – at the same time – he opposes bringing Bush to any sort of justice because no crimes have been committed. This does not bode well for elections as our salvation.
So, here’s my question. Do we accept the standards being established for the White House by Bush and Cheney? Or do we oppose them? And if we oppose them, will we turn out and say so this Friday morning? Come at 8 a.m. or come earlier. Attendees will be traveling to Monticello as early as 6 a.m. We’re meeting at Quarry Park (Map here: http://tinyurl.com/4gk7jw ). Bring posters and props and new ideas. Wear appropriate T-shirts. And we’ll have more supplies for you. Bring all your different beliefs. We need not agree on anything other than the importance of opposing George W. Bush.