Saturday, April 23, 2005

Dissent and My Right to It

My earliest political memories are of my old daddy’s raging against FDR.  Daddy was a conservative in the days when that term didn’t carry quite such a big stick and was about actually conserving things.  I grew up with that familial heritage and am to this day conservative in the ways that I have always defined it.  That definition has been hijacked to a very large degree and I hardly recognize those who espouse conservatism today.


At some distance, as I live now in Europe, I am appalled at what I read and see of dissent as our president tours America with his ‘town hall’ style meetings on Social Security reform. Even The American Conservative magazine is upset and ran a very-worth-the-reading article nearly eighteen months ago titled Free-Speech Zone, The Administration Quarantines Dissent.  In it they chase down a number of fascinating threads that produce a fabric of intimidation. We didn't used to be (since McCarthy) much interested in being intimidated by our government and I hope that still holds true.


What I find most troubling is the hollow promise of allowing First Amendment dissent and then cordoning it off, out of sight and presumably out of mind, in secure zones. Secure against whom? These secure zones are so secure that even the press is not allowed access to the protesters, rounded up and penned off like cattle. Secret Service agent Brian Marr explained to National Public Radio, “These individuals may be so involved with trying to shout their support or non-support that inadvertently they may walk out into the motorcade route and be injured. And that is really the reason why we set these places up, so we can make sure that they have the right of free speech, but, two, we want to be sure that they are able to go home at the end of the evening and not be injured in any way.”


Yeah, that's the reason, Brian.


Essentially, thepurpose behind public protest of this type is twofold; to show our president our individual disapproval and to demonstrate to that evening’s TV audience that such a protest exists. It’s allowed everywhere in American society, from the Michael Jackson trial to the steps of Congress. It’s aggravated every president since we’ve had presidents, but not this one. 


The ACLU, along with several other organizations, is suing the Secret Service for what it charges is a pattern-and-practice of suppressing protesters at Bush events in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, and elsewhere. An ACLU spokesman said of the protesters, “The individuals we are talking about didn’t pose a security threat; they posed a political threat.” In a May 2003 terrorist advisory, the Homeland Security Department warned local law enforcement agencies to keep an eye on anyone who “expressed dislike of attitudes and decisions of the U.S. government.”


Excuse me? Keep an eye?  On my old daddy? 


Since a controversial Ashcroft 2002 memo, the FBI’s approach towards protesters establishes its “belief that dissident speech and association should be prevented because they were incipient steps towards the possible ultimate commission of act which might be criminal,” according to a Senate report. Prevent dissident (free) speech because it is an incipient step towards a possible commission of what might be criminal. That’s pretty much of a stretch. My dictionary defines incipient as ‘only partly in existence’ so we now have the FBI formulating policy on possibilities that are only partly in existence and might be criminal.


That kind of policy would have wrapped up Al Capone in an eyewink, but we are not Al Capone, we are a 62-year-old man holding up a sign, “War is good business. Invest your sons.” That is a heartfelt message from a man who's old enough to understand what's at stake and  involved enough to show up and make a statement. But he was not seen by his president or the press and that's wrong.


So, here I am guys.  Anyone who reads this blog or my associated writing site knows damned well that my opinions often express dislike of attitudes and decisions of the U.S. government.  And I guess it’s no secret, because my blog was quoted earlier in the week on CNN for a  comment on Tom DeLay and they mentioned me by name as well as the country in which I live.


I’m waiting for the knock on the door, as Vaclav Havel waited in this same country sixteen short years ago.