August 29, 2008
The videographer inquires at the police line, "why are we being contained?"
The policeman gestures upward with his automatic weapon as he responds, "you’re not, you can leave." *
But the detainees are surrounded by overwhelming force, and there is no escape. A similar question at a different point in the line will elicit a similar response. To any free spirit trapped behind the lines, the tone is mocking, dismissive. To the protesters, journalists, and legal observers, the message is clear: your government’s intent to control ideology is every bit as absolute as is its monopoly on force. As minutes pass into hours, the lesson becomes its own form of punishment.
In the streets of Denver, we have witnessed the systematic criminalization of any ideology that is not mainstream. If you dare to exercise free speech in the streets, then your government will make that the battleground between mainstream and "corrupting" ideas.
Political speech may be free when restricted to the realm of thought, but in this society, political speech is not free in the dimension of cost. Your "aberrant" ideology comes with a price which you will pay, personally. Via police phalanxes administering pepper spray and batons, via random, unprovoked arrests and the humiliation of detainees, the police force becomes the instrument of instruction: you are slaves to the system, and if you rebel, your dissidence will be punished.
Some will argue that the police were doing a necessarily brutal job, that it was important to exhibit overwhelming force in order to prevent anarchists from damaging property. This is property-above-people fetishism; it asserts that the broken heads of many innocent activists, journalists, and bystanders are preferable to the mere possibility of broken windows. (Someone who was involved with the planning sessions relates to me that there was never a plan to break windows…)
The standoff, in which the Denver police corralled an entire protest march into "pens" of heavily armored police lines reinforced by cavalry and armored vehicles, was broadcast to the world via the Denver Post’s streaming video, and by other means. Its significance will likely be debated for years to come. To those of us who were in one way or another involved, it reinforces the conviction that there is little difference between the two mainstream parties.
The mayor of Denver is a Democrat. The Governor of Colorado is a Democrat. This was a confrontation at the convention of Barak Obama’s party, and he cannot have been oblivious. His interest should have been felt personally. If Barak Obama was really one of the people, he would have dropped whatever he was doing Monday night and flown to Denver. The Barak of the people would have walked through the ranks of heavily armed soldiers, past the cadres of cossacks and the armored vehicles, and he would have offered some of his magical phrases to calm the jets on both sides. It is the dilemma of our society that in doing so, he would have dismissed any chance that he would take office next January. Even as he identified himself with the plight of the people in the street, he would have signified to the party that he was no longer mainstream.
As in Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign, the state allows you certain freedoms, then attempts to crush the spirit that animates such free thinking. Any deviance from mainstream acceptance is to be punished with political failure. But if you go too far, (i.e., take to the streets) then you face imprisonment, humiliation, beatings. Implicit in the message is the Orwellian concept that your government knows best; it is good for you to acknowledge this, even if the government must force you to such an understanding.
* The words are verbatim from Aaron Cantrell’s video
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