We are entering a new age, one in which we are seeing the 'inevitability of democracy.' On a frigid February night in St. Louis, crowds gathered outside the music building at Washington University, not to hear a concert, but to protest loudly their revulsion towards the speaker of the hour, infamous former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Now on the lecture circuit, Gonzales was paid $30,000.00 by Washington University in St. Louis to appear as part of a speaker series, formed under the auspices of engaging various academics, political figures and activists from across the political spectrum.
The route of the protest encompassed a quarter mile stretch. Student protesters were sporting the same orange jumpsuits worn by inmates in America's prisons, Guantanamo and otherwise. A line of orange suited protesters knelt on the cold sidewalk as black hoods, identical to those used on 'unlawful combatants' at Guantanamo, were placed over their heads. Adjacent to this line, a smaller contingent reenacted stories of waterboarding and other tortures with classical music and text to complete the picture. Buildings, small private businesses and streetlights were wallpapered with 'WANTED' posters replete with Gonzales' photo reminiscent of that special 'Kodak moment.' Each 'WANTED' poster stated the following:
ALBERTO R. GONZALES
For authorizing the use of torture by the United States military and the Central Intelligence Agency in violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture. On Nov. 4, 2006, a complaint was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights with a German Federal Prosecutor on behalf of 12 Iraqi citizens held at Abu Ghraib prison and one Guantanamo detainee.
For more information on the complaint filed in Germany go to: www.ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases and click on case #18.
On the other side of this wanted poster was a website providing more information on U.S. torture policy. This is the website: www.stoptorturenow.org.
The organizers of this event included the Washington University Peace Coalition, the College Democrats, and Amnesty International-St. Louis Chapter. Additional groups involved included: CODEPINK St. Louis, The St. Louis Instead of War Coalition, Amnesty International at Washington University, Amnesty at University Of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), Amnesty at Webster University (a Jesuit college), The National Lawyers Guild-Washington University Chapter, The Center for Theology and Social Analysis, the Student Labor Action Project, SWA, The Peace Economy Project, Stop Torture Now!, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Interfaith Committee on Latin America and the ACLU.
Adam Shriver, a student at Wash. U. , and one of the organizers clearly explained the goal behind this protest.
"We wanted to send a strong message that the WashU and the St. Louis community did not support donating $30,000.00 to the legal defense fund of someone who was a key player in the "torture memos" and an architect of the Guantanamo Bay system. We also thought that this was a great opportunity to bring together a lot of groups who have similar values but don't always work together. For example, one thing that I thought was really encouraging about the rally is that peace activists and Democrats , two groups who haven't always seen eye-to-eye over the past year on issues related to funding the war, were able to work in solidarity to send a really powerful message about torture. It's important for activists to hold Democrats accountable on the issues they claim to care about, but it's also important for the two groups to come together over really important issues like this to remind the world of the progressive vision for America."
Another local organizer, Laurie Meier of CODEPINK-St. Louis was asked what advice she'd give the next President, and why? Laurie gave a pragmatic and calm answer.
"Bush's presidency has been destructive on so many levels and quite honestly some of that damage might be irreversible. However, it has created a generation of people who are hungry for change and are willing to work hard for it. With this incredibly important opportunity, I really hope our next President will tap into the energy of the people, to change and harness all of that energy and move our country forward."
The crowd was diverse in terms of race, age and professional status. Next to a self-identified radical anarchist stood an elementary special education teacher who works with autistic students. As I mingled through the crowd, I spoke with retirees, college professors, local entrepreneurs, Democrats, libertarians, and yes, a few Republican conservatives. The one thing that brought them together was the desperate need to return to constitutional rule. This crowd cared little for partisanship; they wanted their rights. Many Obama supporters were in attendance, chatting up their candidate as eagerly as they prayed for Gonzales' downfall.
What was missing from this very impressive picture, were the two main Democratic candidates, or rather their commentary. All over the country, similar demonstrations are taking place, duly ignored by the corporate media, but also duly ignored by the democratic candidates. As we listen to Obama and Hillary vie for the public's short attention span, we are barraged with slogans and policy bribes , such as universal healthcare, green collar jobs, and an improved trade policy. Each candidate swears to 'pull out all combat troops by the end of 2009, while failing to mention the fact that most troops engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan are not officially classified as combat troops Consequently, either Obama or Clinton could truthfully 'pull out' all combat troops, and still have a large contingency force remaining in the war zone.
Both of these candidates are extremely intelligent and well informed, too much so to claim they were duped by 'spin' officials.
Yet, when the subject of returning constitutional rule is broached, both candidates are eerily silent. In all fairness, Obama has condemned both the practice of torture and the existence of Abu Ghraib. Hillary has decried the theft of habeas corpus rights. Both have recently thrown in mentions of civil rights restoration during speeches as one of many desperate issues. And both have failed miserably as advocates for the return of constitutional rule and the full restoration of the Bill of Rights.
While Obama all but channels Dr. Martin Luther King, and Hillary equates laissez faire capitalism with democracy, all to the tune of 'Those were the days', neither candidate has taken a strong stand on this issue.
Restoration of constitutional rule is more than restoration of Habeas corpus. While habeas corpus rights are crucial, more than habeas is at stake. The entire Bill of Rights has been gutted by the Bushies, with the DLC's silent consent.
As we speak, S.B. 1959 is being considered in the Senate Homeland Security Committee. S.B. 1959 is the Senate version of the earlier House bill, H.R. 1955. Otherwise known as the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Bill. This proposed law would in effect, criminalize thought. In a moronic attempt to prevent ordinary citizens from becoming the next Jeffrey Dahmer, this bill creates--a committee which would tour the country, interview potential terrorists and determine any danger spots. Reminiscent of the infamous McCarthy Committee on Un-American Activities, this committee would have no true accountability to the public or to the US Constitution. The operational definitions in this bill used to determine apparent 'radical or violent behavior,' are so vague, that the little old librarian holding a cardboard sign, protesting to save some spotted owl--could be branded a terrorist and face the same potential penalties arguably as Osama himself. This bill protects no one, except the government from those who would incite or cause dissent.
Sponsored in the house, by Rep. Jane Harman, A DEMOCRAT, this bill passed with some 400+ votes and only 6 votes against. The new version is now in Sen. Joe Lieberman's "Homeland Security committee. Hillary is off the hook, at least a little. She's not on that committee, but Obama is a member. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is another member of that committee. You would think that such an incendiary bill, second only to Military Commissions in terms of treasonous intent against our freedoms, might have been the subject of vociferous protest. ( I should live so long). Again, no protest from the presidential candidate on that committee. No warning against such an undemocratic and dictatorial bill. Somehow the candidate of 'change' sounds a whole lot like the same old smokescreen.
During Obama's victory speech in Wisconsin, he answered his critics who questioned the motive behind his run. Such critics questioned his experience, claiming that his relative youth should have been reason enough to delay his run. They reiterated, why now Barak? Obama claimed the mantle of Dr. King and explained that ..."the fierce urgency of now," dictated his run.
While I greatly admire Obama, I find his silence on this dangerous bill to be disturbing. Both Hillary and Obama have been far too silent on the systematic rape of our God given rights. Both, now eager to claim the mantle of 'economic populist', must confuse charity with rights.
From the beginning, both Democrats and Republicans, with few exceptions, have eagerly signed our rights away to the President. Throughout an entire series of legislative atrocities committed by the Bush administration, the Democrats have almost uniformly conformed with the blatant unconstitutional power grab otherwise known as the 'unitary executive theory.' This 'unitary executive theory espouses a presidential dictatorship, with Congress and the Courts serving subservient duties as pleases the presidential dictator de jour. This theory was allegedly crafted by an attorney named David Addington, an associate of Vice President Dick Cheney. The 'laws' crafted by this administration included : Patriot I & II, Military Commissions Act of 2006, The Warner Authorization Act, HSPD &NSPD 51 & 20, and a host of various signing statements and executive orders which create de facto legislation WITHOUT THE LEGISLATURE. When you add the Violent Radicalization bill in committee (S.B. 1959), a picture emerges of a perpetual presidential dictator and a lapdog congress. A sample shows the following: Military Commissions eviscerates the notion of habeas corpus, while the Warner Act creates the conditions necessary for the initiation of martial law. In short the President now has the right to disband Congress, suspend national elections, and deprive citizens of habeas corpus rights. The Congress willingly signed off on all of these acts, fearful they would be decried as 'soft on terrorism.' Frankly, the only thing the congress was soft on was their notion of representative government and their conscience. Throughout all of this, both Obama and Hillary were far too silent. You don't need the votes, to denounce an injustice of such magnitude. You merely require the ability to be inverterbrate.
This protest was a clarion call to action. For too long our people have been conned into thinking that their rights to healthcare, a fair trade policy, and the most precious of rights--the right to self-determination--were gifts from the government. THEY WERE NOT.
Healthcare supplied by a public single payer, such as Medicare for All, and a trade policy which ensures a fair deal for our people--are our rights. When we are duped into thinking that these programs are gifts or 'entitlements', we behave much like an abused woman who clings to her very abuser. If we surrender our rights, and do not fight to regain them, then any gifts or largesse given as vote bribes to us during election season, can be taken away as easily as a hooker loses her 'virtue.' We have a God given right to healthcare, public education, fair trade, a full verifiable counting of all our votes and most importantly--our constitutional rights as enumerated and expanded by the US Bill Of Rights.
I'll end with a quote concerning the nature of dictators, one I'm sure will infuriate the ideologues behind the 'unitary executive' theory. "The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist." Before the Bush spin machine screams 'traitor to democracy' or 'soft on terrorism,' they should consider the source of the quote. The source was Sir Winston Churchill, the iron defender of Great Britain during WWII, on November 21st, 1943. This is the same generation and group of political icons from which both Republican and Democratic leaders claim to draw strength and moral clarity. Too bad their claims were based on a false foundation.
As for Alberto Gonzales, the Bush administration, and the DLC collaborators who allowed such immoral injustices to occur, I would say they're on the wrong side of history. To the democratic presidential candidates, who mistake silence or intellectual 'fence-sitting,' as a safe haven--I would suggest that they 'check' their cowardice at the door, and find their conscience.