Cecily McMillan Verdict Proves Dissent Is Dangerous

McMillan’s supporters rally at Zuccotti Park following the verdict/Photo by @JamesFTInternetMcMillan’s supporters rally at Zuccotti Park following the verdict/Photo by @JamesFTInternet

The conviction of Occupy Wall Street protester Cecily McMillan for assault on a police officer shows that the judiciary is corrupt and dissent will not be tolerated. We can no longer call ourselves a democratic society, and as Chris Hedges says, we are living in the “post-constitutional era.”

Since 9/11, the justification given for incremental loss of our freedoms has been “keeping us safe from terrorism.” But in truth, governments always seek to accrue more power to control their populaces in service to elite economic interests. It is an imperative which pre-dated 9/11, but one that afterwards spiraled out of control.

A heightened state of fear, a subliminal awareness of being expendable in the neo-liberal economy and the distraction of consumer culture have kept the majority of Americans in paralysis. In the meantime, institutions which protected our rights have been systematically undermined. This, unfortunately, is the regime we now live under:

The Authoritarian State

Dissent will not be tolerated. Cecily McMillan was prosecuted for assaulting a police officer when she herself was assaulted. Prosecuting her for felony assault with severe penalties serves only one purpose: to deter further protest and scare the rest of us into submission.

All of the Occupy movement was subject to surveillance, infiltration and extreme force. In Dallas, some Occupy leaders were targeted for assassination. A multi-city, multi-agency conspiracy was mobilized to shut the encampments down.

Occupy and other movements for change are a threat to the status quo from the grassroots. The government is willing to go the extreme measures to stamp out the “insider threat” too. Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake have been selectively charged under the draconian Espionage Act.

The Police State

Radley Balko has documented the para-militarization of police across the nation. Local police forces have taken advantage of Department of Homeland Security grants to obtain tanks which they display in holiday parades. SWAT teams conduct routine searches. Forces equipped with riot gear, paddy wagons, tear gas, tasers, rubber bullets, pepper spray and even automatic weapons are deployed for almost any large public gathering. Police react with lethal force to the slightest provocation, or no provocation at all. “Driving while black” has become even more risky.

The Surveillance State

Edward Snowden revealed the true extent of government surveillance on its own citizens. We discovered that the NSA’s secret slogan is “Collect It All.” NSA officials and the Senate Intelligence Committee charged with overseeing them remain unrepentant and still try to convince us to “just trust them.” The proposed U.S. Freedom Act is supposed to be a major surveillance overhaul, but it really offers little protection for anybody except the telecoms.

The Post-Constitutional State

Constitutional rights are a thing of the past. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the indefinite detention clause of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to seize American citizens and hold them without charge or due process. “It means that extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil by our government is legal,” says journalist Chris Hedges, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court also just rejected an appeal by a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, refusing for a second time to define the limits of military detention. Seizure and indefinite detention undermine the fundamental right of habeus corpus.

The Totalitarian State

Government asserts the ultimate power of life and death over citizens. The U.S. refuses to outlaw capital punishment at the federal level. Many of its states cherish the power to execute. As we just saw in Oklahoma, a condemned man was tortured to death when an improvised cocktail of lethal drugs was improperly injected.

Our government also asserts the right to declare citizens “enemy combatants” and kill them without due process. President Obama has ordered the assassination of four U.S. citizens in the “targeted killing” program. Anwar al-Awlaki and his son were both blown to bits by drone bombs in Yemen.

The Corrupt State

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allowed corporate money to flood election campaigns via super-PAC’s. Now McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission has virtually swept away any barriers to bribery of elected officials by eliminating aggregate limits. Allegiance to campaign donors eliminates any distinction between the two political parties.

The Corporate State

Once again, Citizens United allows corporate money to thwart democracy. Billions of dollars in industry lobbying also influences legislation in favor of corporate interests. The American Petroleum Institute, for example, spent $9.3 million on lobbying in 2013. Politicians bought off by Big Oil are now allowing the industry to suck the remaining oil and gas reserves out of the ground by means of extreme extraction methods. The eventual impacts on the environment, health and safety, water supply and climate could be disastrous.

In addition, corporations seek to cement their hegemony by means of free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Its champions claim that these agreements “level the playing field” for American businesses and create jobs, but in fact they only serve to protect investor rights.

At this point, our options for real reform within “the system” are limited. We can no longer go to the judiciary for relief. Voting is a charade. If we don’t mutiny now, we allow the ship’s captains to chart a doomed course.

Nonviolent protest and exposure two vital tools at our disposal. While dissent is now dangerous, we must continue to assert our right to free speech. Power thrives on secrecy, and sunlight has repeatedly proven to be an effective countermeasure. The TPP, for example, was a done deal until its secret negotiations were made public; now it is seriously off-track. We must keep making the case that exposing the NSA as Edward Snowden did was a public service, not a crime. We must champion people like Cecily McMillan, John Kiriakou and Chelsea Manning who have gone to prison for their courageous acts. It’s time to wake from our dream and resist.