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As the practice of democracy becomes a lost art, Americans are increasingly desperate for a restored nation. Many have a general sense that the "system" is in disorder-if not on the road to functional collapse. But though it is easy to identify our political problems, the solutions are not always as clear.
GIVE ME LIBERTY
Originally posted by Ign0rant
Stay alert, and more importantly stay safe.
I wrote this handbook with the faith that if Americans take personal ownership of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, they can push back any darkness. The first two sections of this refresher guide to our liberties recall what America is supposed to be; the last third is a practical how-to for citizen leadership for a new American Revolution.
We have to rise up in self defense and legitimate rebellion. We need more drastic action than e-mails to Congress.
We need the next revolution.
The founders knew that life without freedom was not worth having. Freedom to think is followed by freedom to speak.
I analyzed in my last book, The End of America, what happens to a citizen psychologically when he or she is systematically lied to, controlled, intimidated, stripped of rights, and even physically threatened or incarcerated. People's adaptations to this kind of oppression snowball: the more scared you are, the more you silence yourself; then, the more the silencers are emboldened; then, the freer they feel to scare you; then, the scarier the methods they use become. And so on.
A psychological process goes in the opposite direction as well. The founders understood this. This process is just as powerful a force for good as the other process is for evil: the more freedom a citizen has, the more he or she believes in his or her capacity to take great risks and make great change; the more he or she see the results of these great risks, the more courage that citizen will show; the more courage that citizen shows, the more psychological space opens up in the heart and mind of that citizen and on those of his or her neighbors. Before there can be freedom to act, protest, or legislate, there must be freedom to think and then freedom to speak.
"A dozen or so people in the room, we ended up with this document that was an updated version of the Declaration of Independence; we got it approved by the city attorney as a ballot measure. We needed ten thousand and some odd signatures to make it happen. It was quickly evident that we weren't going to get ten thousand signatures. But it was a great gesture.
"I transitioned from public access TV to the video blogging platform and started The Revolution Will Be Televised, my video blog. I became a journalist covering events, not a participant.
It is easy for us to look at the diminishing of our common space to assemble and protest as a minor inconvenience; we are over committed and protesting doesn't sound like much fun anyway, and, hey, in the internet era, isn't it beside the point? Can't I do just as well staying safely in my study, clicking a mouse?
No, we cannot do just as well staying in our private rooms and going online; that is how private space becomes the isolation of citizens and in turn eventually becomes a comfortable personal cage. At times we must amass ourselves; this action is not expendable. Its benefit to us is not just stylistic or a matter of nostalgia. Mass disruptive protest is history's time honored tactic against the suppression of citizens rights; the assembling of citizens in defiance of wrongdoing also feeds a psychological space that we need to fill if we are to live truly as free men and women. amassing in the thousands helps us to grasp the power we have unleashed. It heartens us. Because the founders meant for you to be sovereign and to have your own nonviolent but disruptive army; and we are supposed to be your army.
With enough conditioning of Americans to comply with ever-more-onerous permit requirements, fees, hurdles, and ever-more-sinister crowd-control technologies, the anti-citizen interests of the nation have put in place a system that lets the finally ignore Americans' speech rights altogether. These permit restrictions are escalating in severity even as citizens objections to them are weakening. You can also bet that Americans will, sooner or later, become too worn-out and frustrated- or simply too scared of being hurt-to demand these rights at all.
Our revolution must defeat such forces. We need powerfully to be able to take to the streets.
The Revolutionary generation believed that "even the reins of state mayy be held by the sons of the poorest men, if possessed of abilities equal to the important station."
They wished to ensure that "all offices lie open to men of merit, of what ever rank or condition" and that a man's merit should "rest entirely within himself, without any regard to family, blood, or connection."
In 1806, Philadelphians sent to Congress "farmers...a blacksmith...a Butcher." In other words, the revolutionary idea that ordinary people were natural leaders and that the oppression of ordinary people was intolerable spread outward, gaining momentum and force.
My students generally have not been taught that all that we cherish or even simply take for granted-that African-Americans work and live beside white Americans as fellow citizens rather than being held by them in bondage; that woman have the rights to vote and own property; aspects of our lives as basic as weekends, safe workplaces, food that won't kill us; that kids go to school rather than labor twelve hours a day in factories-all came about because of some handful of crazy idealists who simply did not accept that they were powerless to spark great change, who gathered in spite of opprobrium, every kind of ridicule, and every reason to believe that their vision of the future was pointless, even suicidal, dream.
If twenty-four states have citizens' referenda-direct democracy-why not a limited national referendum system? Will Congress accept such an empowerment of the people of its own accord? Of course not; such a bill would break lobbyist, special interests, and incumbents hegemony. But if a massive grassroots movement shows that the vast majority of Americans support such a law? Our representatives would be hard-pressed to explain to us why they do not trust the people.
The moment such a law passed, we, the people, would be equal in power in some ways to the lobbyists and the donors. We would be able to sit at the table in direct deliberation with our representatives. This is not a radical revision of the system but rather a corrective, returning a system far distorted from its original, participatory blueprint, back in the direction of the people it was intended to serve.
"A nation torn by injustice and violence, its streets patrolled by army units-if this is to be our country," wrote Robert Kennedy,"we can doubt how long others will look to us for leadership, or seek our participation in their common ventures. America was a great force in the world, with immense prestige, long before we became a great military power. That power has come to us and we cannot renounce it, but neither can we afford to forget that the real constructive force in the world comes not from bombs but from imaginative ideas, warm sympathies, and generous spirit. These qualities...of a people pursuing decency and human dignity in its own undertakings without arrogance or hostility or delusions of superiority toward others, a people whose ideals for others are firmly rooted in the society we have built for ourselves."