By Dennis Loo
Those of us who want to see justice – the prosecution and conviction of torturers, the ending of the wars upon Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the rolling back of the surveillance state and the blowing away of the smell of fascism in the air – are up against a beast.
Despite a majority of Americans expressing their sentiments by voting, including defeating Bush in 2000 and 2004 and Obama’s 2008 election on a platform of “change,” these wars on the people – here and abroad – go on.
Despite being an African-American who has seen the world and who asserts the “audacity of hope,” Obama is continuing to shield the Bush war criminals from punishment, is escalating the wars upon Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is institutionalizing measures, such as the stripping of habeas corpus rights and the indefinite detention of people for crimes they might commit even after they’ve been acquitted: unmistakable markers of a tyranny.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal on July 8, 2009:
“The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.
“Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s chief lawyer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision that officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat.
“Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration argues that the legal basis for indefinite detention of aliens it considers dangerous is separate from war-crimes prosecutions. Officials say that the laws of war allow indefinite detention to prevent aliens from committing warlike acts in future, while prosecution by military commission aims to punish them for war crimes committed in the past.
“Mr. Johnson said such prisoners held without trial would receive ‘some form of periodic review’ that could lead to their release.”
Now that’s change we can believe in!
Congress, under the Democrats’ rule since 2006, continues to fund these immoral wars, to go along with the White House’s egregious policies or, worse yet, push for even worse still, and refuses to do the right thing.
What must be done in the face of these ongoing and outrageous developments?
People say that continuing to do the same things that didn’t work before is a sign of insanity. Yet there are those who counsel us to do precisely that, including from among those whose hearts and bodies are on the right side.
David Swanson, whose tireless work against these atrocities has been and continues to be indispensable, has written two new essays in which he calls for focusing the movement’s efforts on the House of Representatives.
“If the House [of Representatives] refuses to fund wars, the Senate can vote for $100 quadrillion, and not a dime of it can be spent. The president can scream for blood (or gently suggest humanitarian bombings) but not send a single drone. It only takes one house to block a bill. A handful of skilled and determined people can often sway the vote of a House member. These representatives have to be elected every two years. They are always worried about elections. They are also very concerned about their portrayals in local media, and generating positive or negative stories about them in local media is very easy. They are bought off by corporate funders, but not nearly as completely as a president is.”
I respectfully disagree with David.
As we speak, assassins roam the land, murdering abortion providers, justified by Christian fascist leaders who in turn are treated by public officials and mass media as “respectable.”
As we speak the perpetrators of torture with blood on their hands roam the land, free to teach law students the “law,” stand in judgment as an Appeals Court Judge, appear on TV advocating torture, give speeches for pay, and generally occupy the land of the living like zombies eating human flesh and declaring how tasty it is.
How did torture and assassination become respectable?
The Department of Defense has been training all of its employees that “protest” equals “low-level terrorism,” until last month, that is, when an article I wrote helped to get them to back off and take heat for what they’ve been doing.
How did protest and dissent become criminalized as terrorism?
When the House of Representatives initially defeated the $700+ billion bailout bill Secretary Henry Paulsen threatened martial law.
How did voting on a financial bill on its merits become utterly impossible?
What do all of these things tell us about the time we’re in?
Even if we did got more anti-war representatives into office, as David recommends, even if we got more current representatives to vote their constituents’ wishes, why would they stick to doing what the people want if the White House, the party leadership, and the mass media tell them that the “war on terror” justifies the most outrageous actions?
What do the last several years tell us over and over again?
Elections don’t decide public policy.
Voting doesn’t work.
Democrats and Republicans feed off the same trough.
What does history tell us? As Howard Zinn tirelessly points out, the really good things in our society have only always come as a result of mass movements, not from condescending saviors or through electoral “contests.”
Popular action, ranging from courageous and determined individual actions to that of mass demonstrations, represents the taking of the political stage of the PEOPLE as an independent political force.
The main audience for these political actions by the people is the rest of the people, the 70% who David accurately describes as agreeing with us but mostly doing nothing. These actions are a wake up call, on the one hand, to the others who are not politically active to become active in small and large ways. They are a call for them to become much better informed about what’s going on. They are a call for them to rouse their conscience and to act upon their conscience.
They are also, on the other hand, a declaration to public officials, to the media, and to those who aren’t public officials, but who are part of the small group of people who actually run things and make policy: you will not be allowed to continue to do this as you have done. We are watching. We are not being silent. We are not being fooled. We are a force to reckon with and we will not beg and plead and entreat. We will not abide by your “established channels” that are merely detours and traps to derail us. We will not be misled into thinking that “business as usual” can bring about the dramatic ruptures from the monstrous policies that you “leaders” have been responsible for.
We are the PEOPLE and we are determined and outraged.
That 70% that David speaks of have believed that they were doing what must be done and can be done by voting. But voting obviously hasn’t done it, nor has it ever done it.
Political power is exercised through two means: persuasion and coercion. All governments use these two means in order to rule. The powers that be cannot continue as they have been doing if their actions are seen by enough of the people as illegitimate. Delegitimizing their actions is what any effective political actions must be aimed at accomplishing.
We must not legitimize further that which every day shows itself to the world to be utterly illegitimate. Elections aren’t a genuine exercise of political power nor are they a meaningful or effective use of political power by the people. They do not work any more than the voting of individual Congress members actually reflects the exercise of political power in Congress itself. Even members of Congress don’t decide things by votes. The Congressional party leadership and the White House make the real decisions. The floor votes are fundamentally a sideshow.
Congress isn’t going to do the people’s will if we lobby them a little harder or help to elect new representatives to the House. The people’s will can only be done by the people, if the very legitimacy of Congress and White House is called into open question by enough people. Then and only then will the people have a chance to see its wishes done and will justice have a chance of being done, at long last.
We cannot accomplish that feat by reinforcing the legitimacy of the very institutions that have brought us to this terrible juncture.