Caging Dissent

The Republicans are Coming

by Michael I, Niman, ArtVoice 8/12/04

We now know that in 2000 Jeb Bush’s administration in Florida purged 50,000 people who had the right to vote from Florida’s voting roles. They simply misidentified these voters as ex-felons to whom Florida denies voting rights. The list was disproportionably black and overwhelmingly Democratic. All other irregularities aside, this is ultimately how they stole the election. And this is not an untested theory – it’s uncontested fact.

OK, so what happens in America when we learn an election was stolen? In this case we call the crook “president” for four years and, hush hush, sweep reality under the carpet. The basic idea, which most Democrats acquiesced to, is to protect the supposed integrity of the system by making believe it worked, and in the process, avert a constitutional crisis.

At it Again

The criminals who purposefully stole our democracy from us in 2000, however, are unrepentant. To the contrary, they’re looting the treasury via fat cat military contracts to their sponsors while corrupting the judiciary with the appointments of neo-fascist federal judges. And they’re getting ready to steal the next election by any means necessary. Hence, it comes as no surprise that Florida, still run by Jeb Bush, recently issued a list of 47,000 more “ex-felons” to be purged from the voting roles before the next presidential election. Again, the list was overwhelmingly black and Democratic.

The Florida administration tried to keep the new list secret, but a judge ordered them to make it public. Once it was public, journalists noticed a strange anomaly – the total absence of Hispanic ex-felons. It seems that Jeb Bush’s people removed Hispanics, who in Florida tend to be Republican-leaning Cubanos, from the list. They also outsourced vote counting to a Republican-controlled private electronic voting machine company whose machines don’t create recountable paper records. (see Getting a Grip 10/30/03 or for the most comprehensive article written to date on electronic voting, see Ronnie Dugger’s cover story in the August 16, 2004 issue of The Nation).

On the rare occasions that I meet someone who admits to voting for George W. Bush, I’m always astonished, and I ask them, “Why did you give up your vote so easily?” I mean, with all the election fraud that we saw in 2000, with all the efforts Republicans made to steal the election, there was no need to steal their votes. They just gave them away.

The Right Sign

This year the Republicans are not only doing everything they can to stifle dissent at the ballot box – they’re working to stifle it in the streets as well. Their latest contribution to the American political lexicon is the oxymoronic phrase, “free speech zone.” As I wrote last week, all of America is a free speech zone. If speech is caged or penned, it’s not “free” at all. Yet, since 2000, we’ve seen these zones of oppression pop up all over the country. Whenever George W. Bush appears in public, the Secret Service appears first, instructing local police agencies to quarantine protestors into free speech pens.

The pens, however, aren’t for everyone. People demonstrating in support of the Bush regime or any of their pet policies, are often exempt from the pennings. This was documented at the 2002 trial for Bill Neel, a Pittsburg retiree who showed up to greet Bush during a Labor Day visit to that city, with a sign reading, “The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.” According to The American Conservative (12/15/03), he was arrested for refusing to take his anti-Bush placard to a “free speech zone.” Neel, it turns out, was in the middle of a sign-wielding crowd of Bush supporters lining W’s motorcade route when police ordered him to relocate to a fenced in ball field seven blocks away from the motorcade route. At his trial, a Pittsburgh police spokesperson, John Ianachione, explained that the Secret Service ordered the police to remove anyone who expressed an opinion “against the president and his views.” The judge threw the case out of court, angrily explaining to the Assistant District Attorney, “I believe this is America.”

This certainly was not an anomaly. In another celebrated case, a South Carolina police officer arrested a man for refusing to leave a similar motorcade route, telling him that it wasn’t his presence per-se that was the problem, but it was “the content of your sign that’s the problem.” When South Carolina prosecutors dropped the charges, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, the agency ironically responsible for protecting protestors’ civil rights, stepped in and charged the man under federal law for the crime of “entering a restricted area around the President of the United States.”

Protestors in St. Louis in 2003 were actually incarcerated in their pen and not allowed to leave. The media, by contrast, were not allowed to enter the pen, hence they could not talk to the protestors. In Louisiana, pro-Bush demonstrators were allowed to again line W’s tree-lined motorcade route while anti-Bush demonstrators were dispatched to bake in the sun at a designated free speech solar oven. And again, when asked why those other people could line the route, a police officer explained, “it’s because they’re pro-Bush.” In Crawford, Texas, a police officer recently told a court that wearing a peace button can constitute an illegal demonstration. The examples go on and on.

“Protestors are Terrorists”

The Bush administration’s disdain for democracy is inherent in its abhorrence of dissent. In May of 2003, the Department of Homeland Security issued a terrorist advisory to local police departments warning them to be on the lookout for people who “expressed dislike of attitudes and decisions of the US government.” This attitude was evident last April 7 th, when police under the command of the federally funded California Ant-Terrorism task force opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in Oakland, shooting several with “non lethal” rubber bullets – a tactic borrowed from Apartheid-era South Africa and the Israeli military in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

California Anti-Terrorism Task Force spokesperson Mike van Winkle justified the attack, explaining to the Oakland Tribune, “If you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest. You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act.” Hence, though having no link to terrorism, the protestors were terrorists none-the-less, evidenced solely by the fact that they were exercising their democratic right, and patriotic duty, to dissent. Van Winkle also argued that since the demonstrators were blocking the entrance to the Port of Oakland, they were terrorists. He explained, “I’ve heard terrorism described as anything that is violent or has an economic impact, and shutting down a port certainly would have some economic impact.”

The problem is that van Winkle isn’t just some drunken wacko pontificating his fascist views in a dank pub to fellow droolers as Fox News blares on in the background. No. He represents the post-coup American federal government. And he sets policy. And people get shot.

These shootings terrorize other would be protestors into staying home and in the end democracy dies a slow death. This is the real terrorism that we’re facing. This terrorism has never been stronger than right now, leading up to the massive protests scheduled for the Republican National Convention later this month in New York City.

Republicans Invade

New Yorkers are angry, likening the upcoming convention to an “invasion.” Writing for New York’s Indypendent, A.K. Gupta argues, “We are being invaded – by a band of crooks and criminals called the Bush administration. In the name of ‘safety’ our fair city is being locked down and the public terrorized so some right-wing lunatics can exploit the tragedy of September 11 th – our tragedy.”

The “terror” is coming in the form of official warnings about supposed lunatic protestors. In one instance, New York’s police commissioner Ray Kelly intoned the passive voice to warn of instructions supposedly appearing on the internet for protestors to sprinkle themselves with gunpowder. A quick Google search of the net, however, attributes the quote, which only turns up on a bunch of right wing news sites such as Fox News, to Commissioner Kelly. None of the protest sites suggest such lunacy. To the contrary, they call for nonviolence. Kelly claims the demonstrators are “hard core groups looking to take us on,” thus setting the stage to confront protestors with an intimidating military style police presence.

The Bush administration has also done its part to up the terror level at the convention protests, elevating their “terror alert” in New York City. While the heightened alert scored frightening front page headlines, the supposed threat turns out to be based on documents dating back to before September 11 th, 2001. And while they list targets, they don’t list any dates. In other words, the new alert is based on old nonspecific information regarding a supposed threat that has always been with us. Unleashing this alert now, however, offers arguments to justify the police state about to be unleashed in Manhattan.

The Function of Terror

Chris Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher at the Columbia School of Journalism, has documented a pattern over the last five years of media generated hysteria surrounding public protests. According to Anderson, the mainstream media “consistently repeat unsubstantiated police claims about violent troublemakers.” Once arrests occur, Anderson found that the same media “parrot” exaggerated or outright false police statements explaining why the arrests occurred. “Many of the same journalists denounce their own manipulation once the protests have ended,” Anderson adds.

This is exactly what’s happening in New York. Government officials are using the media to create terror and hence, a political opening for official repression of protestors, such terror intimidates most would-be protestors into not attending demonstrations.

If the media reports haven’t scared them away, perhaps a maze of razor wire topped fences, police touting military weaponry and the NYPD’s new South African style armored assault vehicles complete with gun turrets will. This terrorism is the true threat to American democracy. It transforms legal protest from the festival it was just a decade ago, into a brave act of defiance. To not defy the Bush administration and their lackeys at this critical juncture in American history, however, could spell the end of our imperiled democracy.


ęCopyright 2004

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