By Ronald Glenn
How many of you, in each of your hometowns, have a street corner on which every day brings a new protest? It might be anti-war one day, anti-gay marriage the next. But any way you look at it, you can always count on somebody being there with a homemade sign.
On Saturday, June 27, 2009, a rally was held in Binns Park in the center of the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, protesting the blanket surveillance as part of a pilot program for Bosch Security Systems, and as reported in previous articles here at America’s Right. The rally was initiated by the Lancaster Coalition for Peace and Justice and attended by the ACLU. A couple television stations were noticeably in attendance, filming and doing interviews. The organizers wanted to show that the surveillance cameras, the integral part of a program that would make Lancaster the most-watched city in the nation, would not be accepted without objection.
I felt there was a moment that occurred amidst the one hour of speeches that was extraordinary, and said much about the state of American politics. One of the speakers graciously chided one of the protesters for having a sign that equated the politician responsible for the cameras with Adolf Hitler. Name calling, after all, is bad form and could very well hinder more than help. Political battles are supposed to be based on mutual respect.
I understood the point, but I wondered, as I watched these hundred citizens gathered together to protest for the cameras, what it took in America to make someone angry. I thought about what happened to me at my office at this time last year, when one of my co-workers made this comment to me:
“Gas in my neighborhood is almost $4.50 a gallon,” he said. “There are countries in the world where, if the government let that happen, we’d be burning cars and having the police shooting tear gas at us. Here all we do is stay home and watch more TV instead of driving.”
In years past, I had lived in a college town where protesting was a permanent part of life. So permanent, in fact, that there was a part of the public park in the center of town that we called “Protest Corner.” Protesters would be situated at an intersection so when you drove down the main street in town you could read the signs and try to figure out the issue of the day. If you drove by often enough, you started to realize some people in particular spent a lot of time there. Most importantly, though, was how safe the public felt knowing these people were stuck on street corner and so could be avoided, and there was no threat to personal safety or private property.
Protesting has become a form of advertising. The rally in Lancaster was more for the press than the public, who are convinced of the truth of a thing more by public information dispensed through the media than they are by personal experience or investigation. Public officials feel threatened by bad press or by a threat to their pocket-books, not by twenty people on a street corner holding makeshift signs and asking passing motorists to honk in solidarity if they want to end the war in Iraq.
This is why, as I mentioned in my last piece for America’s Right, there are conservatives who genuinely feel democracy in general is showing great signs of turning into a catastrophic failure. Many of the most diligent conservatives I have spoken to in the last few months are arguing that the democratic process is being used against the American public in order to create a totalitarian state. Power comes exclusively through the election process. Once a politician is in power he feels he has permission to do whatever he wishes. These conservatives feel the only hope is a literal revolt in which millions of Americans simply refuse to follow a government that has strayed so far from any constitutional foundation of governance that obedience to it is immoral.
This strategy reminds me of the old saying that in a totalitarian state the people are scared of the government, but in a democracy the government is scared of the people. But think about it, what does our government have to fear from its citizens? This last week, when the protests in Iran were center stage, all the contradictions of the modern American outlook was present. America has been promoting democracy as the answer to the world’s woes since World War II, but according to report after report I read on the Internet and from various interviews I heard, it is likely that the reigning government did win the election. Some even said they probably won by a two-to-one margin. Regardless of whether the election results can be trusted–does ACORN have a branch in Tehran?–people often do vote for the wrong governments for inexplicable reasons and, while the protests were justified in the sense that the reigning government should be toppled, perhaps more consideration should be given to the logic that democracy should be paramount. Hamas won the election in the West Bank, remember?
America would never tolerate such a protest on its own soil that would even remotely threaten its existence. Americans would gladly sit in their living rooms and cheer the National Guard for shooting protesters. I saw this personally as a child during the sixties when protests were at their heyday. In our present age, what do we have to protest? When democracy is king, nothing. We had our chance to change the power structure when we voted, but that is it.
Some people have tried to fight the failure of the ballot box by running to the courts, but the representative of the ACLU at the Lancaster rally told me they were having a hard time coming up with a winning strategy to sue against the blanket surveillance. In fact, she said, the cameras might make us more free, not less free. Her comments reminded me that the court system often follows the statement attributed to the infamous communist Leon Trotsky, who supposedly remarked that “overthrowing a government is not a question of politics, it is a question of tactics.”
The American public has tolerated far more than $4.50 a gallon gas. We now have a cap-and-trade tax bill based on fraudulent global warning, trillions of debt, a rogue IRS, and child protective services who have robbed the public of endless constitutional guarantees. In a government run by Barack Obama and Henry Waxman, are you more afraid of the government or are they afraid of you? It would be nice to say that we should not fear each other at all and America should be a wonderful, joyful love-fest, but it could well be that being nice is what has brought America into this mess in the first place.
It is also a fact, though, that the election process has changed the capacity Americans have for revolt. At every political meeting I have attended someone raises the point that too many people in America are receiving government checks to make the possibility of radical change possible. Promising a check in the mail is how people get elected.
The American public is no better than a teenager who complains endlessly about his parents, but runs to them every time he needs money or wants to use the car. The people of Iran showed us that there are times when you need to fight. It is curious why they thought it was the American people who would help them.
Ronald Glenn has worked in real estate and law for more than twenty years. He now works in Philadelphia, and lives outside the city with his wife. Ron has been writing for America’s Right since January 2009.