It has been a very long time since I posted a diary on Daily Kos. I was never a prolific diarist (and that’s an understatement). But, after wearing out a lot of shoe leather campaigning in 2008, the let-down of post election political reality left me too cynical to be very constructive. Occupy Wall Street was the reenergizing jolt that got me active again. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – this diary speaks for no one but me. I’ve marched, faced rank and file of riot police, spoken on the “people’s mic” and even been interviewed on the local news in NYC. So, although I’m certainly no spokes-person for anything, I have seen what’s going on up close.
In the past few months, I have witnessed the “authorities” repeatedly finding ways to limit and crush dissent. Just as appalling, police have forcibly interfered with efforts by credentialed reporters to cover dissention – especially while their fellow officers arrest peaceful protesters (for an example, see ENOUGH! here on DK).
Why is this happening in a country that supposedly regards dissent as essential to the exercise of freedom and democracy? Any elementary American history book will include the lesson that dissent against the status quo, against tyranny, was a necessary part of this nation’s birth. At least theoretically, dissent is as American as baseball and apple pie.
We are now faced with a glaring inconsistency between the ideals of American democracy and the actions of its present-day “leaders.”
Real leadership can only happen with the consent of the people. For any system of self-government to function, the interests of those who lead must be aligned with the interests of those who are led. This simple premise is at the very foundation of American democracy. Our leaders are elected to represent us. We vote for the people who we think will best represent our interests.
But today, the interests of our elected officials are often very different from those of the people they supposedly represent. This is because our elected officials generally have a lot of money of their own, or they are beholden to people and corporations that have a lot of money, or both. Their interests are therefore necessarily aligned with the rich, not with the people who elect them. As Michael Premo noted in the inaugural issue of Tidal (occupy theory, occupy strategy) “It is the checkbook of the 1% that is heard, not the vote of the 99%”
When fairness and justice are denied to people – when their interests are no longer reflected in the choices made by their government – they can no longer be truly led. They can only be controlled.
When real leadership is no longer possible – when it becomes necessary to control rather than lead – it is no longer possible to govern people by telling them the truth. For those in power to stay that way, they have to keep Americans deluded into believing that the “rules” of our society – and our economy – are not stacked against us.
Thus, it’s easy to see why the truth itself can be threatening to those in power. When they feel threatened, the 1% (and the politicians who serve them) respond with disdain, then with misinformation and deception. If those don’t work, they respond with force. The more threatened they feel, the more force they use.
It is this need for control that explains the disparity between the democratic ideals we hold as Americans and the real-life actions taken by our government. It is the need for control that drives our “duly elected representatives” to respond to peaceful dissention with nightsticks, pepper spray and zip-cuffs. And it is the need for control that necessitates using yet more force to prevent press coverage from exposing what is actually going on.
The extreme force used against Occupy Wall Street is the most recent (but by no means the only) example of what happens when people speak truth to power.
The Occupiers who started this movement in New York were initially dismissed as unorganized young people with misplaced anger. Amid speeches about respect for First Amendment rights, disdainful public officials tolerated the movement, expecting that it would soon sputter out.
But that didn’t happen. The movement grew rapidly and spread to other cities. Suddenly, public officials and media outlets concocted a narrative about the “occupations” presenting a public health and safety problem. Half-truths and outright lies painted the movement in a negative light.
Despite all this, the protests continued to grow. So, our “leaders” decided to crush dissent by force. Riot police used extreme, excessive violence to remove protesters from places like Liberty Plaza (aka Zuccotti Park) and keep them from demonstrating elsewhere. By then, speeches about the First Amendment gave way to rhetoric aimed at delegitimizing the movement and justifying the use of force against peaceful protesters.
We now face the same reality as other social movements that came before Occupy Wall Street. If those in power can keep a lid on dissention enough to keep the truth from spreading, they win.
But if the truth spreads – if enough Americans come to recognize that they’ve been had – then we will see demands for real change grow. We’ve recently been reminded of something we should have known all along – that the change we seek won’t come from the top down –no matter who we elect to be at the “top.”
We must stand together with courage to make the truth known. We can’t bring about change if we don’t show up. Our power is derived not from force, but from the essential moral imperatives of human dignity, equality, justice and freedom.
Whether we participate in Occupy Wall Street or organize other types of collective action, we all need to stand up and BE our own democracy, rather than just living in someone else’s.