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To Be We the People Once Again
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

To Be We the People Once Again

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Did you hear about Jeffrey Olson? The guy from San Diego who wrote things like “No thanks, big banks” and “Shame on Bank of America” in water-soluble chalk on the sidewalk? He was looking at thirteen years in prison after getting busted on a variety of vandalism charges, but on Monday, a jury of his peers found him not guilty, and he was free to go.

Now there’s a happy story for the Fourth of July, right? A common citizen, exercising his First Amendment right to say bad things about a bank in street chalk that won’t survive the next downpour or the first hose spray, goes up against the bad guys and winds up walking free.

According to Olson, his motivation was entirely straightforward: “Wall Street banks nearly drove our economy into the ditch.” Isn’t it great that we live in a country where a man like Jeffrey Olson is free to express himself in a non-destructive way?



Jeffrey Olson was arrested, and arraigned, and had to get a lawyer, and was tried in a court of law, and was required to stand behind a defendant’s table in a courtroom for a jury decision that could have taken his freedom for thirteen years…because he said bad things about banks in chalk on a sidewalk? A man was prosecuted all the way to a jury verdict for speaking his mind with art that would disappear with the next rainstorm.

I suppose, given the trend toward total retaliation in this country these days, that we should give a giggle and a smile to Jeff Olson for having slipped the noose. Dozens of Occupy protesters faced jail time in cities and towns all over the country after committing such savage crimes as spending time in a public park, standing still in the face of sanctioned police riots, and taking a face full of mace for being on the wrong corner at the wrong time.

Bank of America helped to burn out your future. Jeffrey Olson wanted you to know they did that. The former, and friends, walk through the pouring rain without being molested by so much as a drop, while the latter goes from cuffs to court to verdict for trying to tell you about it.

Thirteen years. For chalk. Written on public sidewalks against bankers and Wall Street hucksters who stole the future – literally – and received not so much as a slap on the wrist. On this august holiday, they are counting their money, swilling champagne and laughing, laughing, laughing at everyone celebrating “freedom” in America.

These are hard times, man. Hard times.

Has it all slipped away, finally and forever? September 11 happened, and all those plastic-sheeting-and-duct-tape years happened, Iraq-has-WMD happened and hundreds of thousands died because of it, the PATRIOT Act happened, the Homeland Security Act happened, the NSA slipped the leash, and somewhere in all that awful noise we became a nation of chickenshit cowards entirely unworthy of the hard, hot heritage that lives behind and beneath “We the People.”

Just the other day, the President of the United States peered through the bars at Robben Island in South Africa in a touching photo-op meant to convey Mr. Obama’s deep feelings for Nelson Mandela and all he endured…but would Mr. Obama dare to peer through the bars of the Haliburton cages in Guantanamo Bay? If a leader like Mandela emerges from that long, illegal, immoral confinement in Cuba to point a damning finger at his captors, who will blush and bluster and flee that condemnation?

You. Me. Us.

“We the People.”

That’s a fact.

“We the People,” as a functioning entity, has been weaker than water for years, a claim without purchase, a boast without meaning, an empty promise of spoils long spoiled. We do this “America” thing by rote now, mesmerized by the myths and oblivious to the truth.


The idea behind and beneath “We the People” is worth fighting for. The idea that made the ability to speak your mind the law of the land, the idea that says you are an integral, absolutely necessary part of this nation despite your race or sex or religion, the idea that royalty (whether it be derived from lineage or wealth) shall not rule here, are all ideas not to be abandoned, no matter how difficult it is to keep that faith in the face of all the gruesome offenses committed against your will.

The dirty little secret of America is the way this place is hard-wired to favor money over good. That’s American-style capitalism in a nutshell…but another little secret is the fact that “We the People” still throw considerable weight around this joint, if we choose to. A great many powerful entities have bewitched us into doubting, or even forgetting, this simple truth, but it is the truth. Egypt, currently celebrating its own Fourth of July, is instructive on what happens when We the People show up and say, simply, “No.”

And the last dirty secret of this brokedown palace: it’s supposed to be hard. It was wired that way, too, way back on another Fourth of July.

Choose to.

You’ll be astonished by how powerful you are.

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