A long time ago, President Nixon, descending into paranoia, maintained an “enemies list” that was leaked to the press. But Nixon had by then become so unpopular that being on Nixon’s enemies list was actually seen as a badge of honor. Humorist Art Buchwald expressed his outrage at not making the list, despite all the articles he had written making fun of Nixon. Buchwald said that as a result of this omission his wife was being snubbed by society and he could not get the best tables in restaurants, which were being reserved only for people on the list. “What kind of government is this” he fumed “that does not even know who its real enemies are?”
I was reminded about this when I was reading that the Bush administration is also now spying and keeping track of people who were protesting the war and other actions of the government. Some of you would already know about the government spying on people who attend demonstrations, and the Pentagon spying even on elderly Quaker antiwar activists, seeing them as a threat. (see here for the video.)
Then on December 22, the New York Times reports that “Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show…The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, ‘I am a shameless agitator.’ She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present. Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events.”
We all know how dangerous Quaker grannies can be, don’t we? We have seen dramatic visual footage (on Monty Python’s Flying Circus) of how vicious gangs of grannies can terrorize entire cities with their purse waving assaults.
And don’t get me started on the real menace that cyclists pose. I’ll bet al-Quaeda has a secret plan to create massive traffic jams in major cities by having their infiltrated agents ride two abreast on busy streets during rush hour on so-called “bike rallies.”
Then, as now, the purpose of such government surveillance actions is largely to intimidate people into not taking part in civic actions. They probably want this surveillance information to be leaked. The purpose is not to make people feel secure, it is to make them fearful, wondering who among them is an informer or a spy. That is how you undermine people’s solidarity, by making them suspicious of each other and fearful of taking any collective action that might be construed as being “subversive”, however law-abiding it might be.
So what should we do in response? Aaron Freeman in his post Spy on me, make my day has it exactly right. He says: “I want my daughters to have FBI files. I want them filmed by hostile government agents during mass protests against injustice. If they get lucky, they’ll be tear-gassed; not so much to do damage, just enough to make a good story. Like I was tear gassed as a child.”
He said that he acquired this attitude as a child from his mother.
When I was eight my mother led our whole family into the marches against segregation in Chicago. The FBI spied on us then, too. In the sixties, the Bureau claimed to be looking for “communists,” now they’re hunting “terrorists,” but they look for enemies among the same group of Americans: protesters, we who dissent. At civil rights marches there were countless guys in suits taking movies and snapshots of us all. Sometimes it was the FBI, sometimes the Chicago Police Department’s in-house anti-subversive unit, the Red Squad. My mother taught us to smile a wave at the camera. Even at eight we understood they meant to scare us. I was in Catholic schools at the time so I was well acquainted with the notion of stuff going on my “permanent record.”
But my mother wanted protest on our permanent records. She insisted that she and her children be counted among those whom bullying law enforcement did not scare.
I am overwhelmingly proud of my childhood dissent. I wear the suspicion of the FBI as a badge of honor.
I’m with Aaron. While we should be fighting this pervasive government snooping, we should also not be intimidated by it. So here are my new year’s resolutions:
I want to be on every government and private list of dissenters, of people who are marked for protesting the war and the rampant violations of civil liberties.
I want to be filmed at antiwar meetings and demonstrations. If the people filming the proceedings for the spy agencies call out my name, I will make sure to give them a good shot of my smiling face for their files for future identification and will even wave to them.
I want my signatures on petitions to be noted.
I want this blog to be monitored by the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and god knows all the other agencies currently spying on people.
When the government uses its databases to list the names of people involved in peace and justice movements, I want my name to appear repeatedly.
I also want to be on such silly lists such as O’Reilly’s enemies list and the one of people ‘waging war on “the holiday formerly known as Christmas”.’
If I do not make those lists, then it means that I have failed in my task of speaking out for justice and peace and civil liberties.
The only way to safeguard civil liberties and constitutional freedoms is by everyone valuing them, protecting them, and using them. As Judge Learned Hand said:
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.
POST SCRIPT: Best wishes for 2006
Well, I have completed almost one full year of blogging, having done my first post on January 26th. The statistics show that I have had a total of over a quarter of a million hits during this period. I have made 220 posts and written nearly a quarter of a million words.
All these numbers are far more than I had anticipated when I started this. I would like to thank all the people who visited, read, and commented. It has been a real pleasure.
I wish all of you the very best for 2006.