Turning Back the Encroaching Police State


When this panel convened last year, we were still in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The Congress had rushed to grant the president unlimited war-making powers, the round up and secret detention of immigrants was in full swing, the invasion of Afghanistan had taken place, troops still occupied much of New York, Bush had named an “Axis of Evil,” and Lynn Stewart had just been arrested.


Now we convene again, perhaps only hours before the United States unleashes a murderous, unjust, and immoral war of aggression against Iraq. Last year, in describing the new era we have entered, I said: “There has in fact been something of a rolling coup over the last few years that began with the attempt by Christian fascists to oust Clinton from office.  Then came the extralegal seizure of the presidency after the 2000 election, and now the whole panoply of measures in the wake of September 11th.


“And save for a few pious wishes and petty amendments, the leadership of the Democratic Party has made it clear that there is no crime of empire that they will not condone or be party to.  This seizure of power by a small group, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft, and all these measures are being justified by the declaration of a permanent state of war, a state of war that the U.S. is declaring on the rest of the world.”


We see the contours of a new global strategy in the administration’s new National Security Strategy document of last September and in its actions.


First is a commitment to make permanent U.S. military and economic superiority over any potential rival to U.S. dominance in the world. Henceforth, no rival power will be allowed to gain the ability to challenge the United States.


Second is the first-strike or preemptive use of military force, including the first use of nuclear weapons, to enforce its new world order.


Third, faced with shaky and unreliable neo-colonial regimes in the Third World, the U.S. has moved toward global military action and direct, long-term military occupation to bring stability and “civilizing norms” to so-called “failed states.”


Fourth is the breaking out of all constraints of international law and treaty institutions.


The assault on Iraq is not an end, but rather the beginning. But it is also a step that could unleash forces that could get beyond their control.


In terms of the domestic impact of all this, it is important to underscore that this striking out for global power cannot be accomplished without shredding the historic social compact in this country, and radically tearing up the basic principles of rule of law and civil liberties.


We have seen the mass registrations and deportations of immigrants from Muslim countries, the holding of U.S. citizens by the military and denying the jurisdiction of the civil courts, the institution of massive surveillance, the domestic deployment of the military, the SEVIS program compelling colleges and universities to report on all foreign students, and now we have the Justice Department’s new draft Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. As we will hear today, this legislation would even empower the government to strip anyone of citizenship.


Together with this has been an exponential growth of data processing and information sharing between  police agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. The USA Patriot Act broke down all the old walls between domestic and foreign intelligence, between law enforcement and political suppression. Everything from our e-mail traffic, to our videoed images in daily life, to our formerly secret grand jury testimony is now available to local cops and the CIA alike.


Two things should now be clear:


First, the massive attack on civil liberties and the right to dissent in this country is situated in, and flows from, the U.S. grab for global power -- Bush’s War on the World.


Second, we have to say that the architecture and mechanisms of a wartime police state are being put in place. The norms of society are being radically changed, and the attacks on immigrants are the door through which all this is being introduced.


This specter of war and repression is why the Not In Our Name statement of conscience has from the beginning treated the global power grab and the new domestic order as a single juggernaut.


My organization, Refuse & Resist!, has summed it up this way: “If one description of a police state is a country where the executive branch can unilaterally define what constitutes a threat to itself, and decide that certain citizens qualify as such a threat, then call them ‘enemy combatants’ and incarcerate them incommunicado, without any trial or hearing, without any notification to family or legal counsel, and keep them locked away for an indefinite period of time at its own discretion; if people can be compelled to register at government offices solely due to their ethnicity, and then be detained, mistreated, and deported without due process; and if all this is upheld by the courts of the land -- well then, we are on our way to such a place because all that is already happening.”


Our panel today is going to examine this in detail. So I want to jump straight to the conclusion, because I want you to process what you are going to hear today in the light of what must now be done.


Last year I ended with the famous Martin Niemoeller epigram, and added that it’s lessons are three: 1) a police state doesn’t come all at once, it comes one step at a time, targeting one group at a time. 2) that means everyone has to come to the defense of a police state’s first victims. And 3) if you fail to do this, there comes a point of no return.


The crying need today is for resistance to be raised to a whole new level that is commensurate with the civil liberties emergency we are actually facing. So let’s look concretely at what real society-wide resistance has to look like.


First, we have an enormous task of sounding the alarm. The ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the defense bar, and immigrants rights groups have developed some excellent material. Yet when I go out and speak on campuses and in local communities, people are shocked when I tell them what’s actually going on. Most people still do not know what’s in all this new legislation. People do not know the extent of the surveillance, secret warrants, roundups, and detentions. All this is not yet the major issue in society that it has to become.


Second, we have to be aiming for society-wide resistance to stop the round-ups and deportations, to defeat vicious new legislation, to promote mass non-compliance with reporting and enforcement, to refuse to be snitches and collectors of information for the government, and to come to the defense of individuals attacked -- from anonymous immigrants, to Jose Padilla, to Lynne Stewart, to high school students punished for walking out to join protests. We have to make good on the Niemoeller lesson of coming to the defense of the first victims.


Third, we have to reach out to the whole breadth of people who are profoundly disturbed by what they correctly see as the loss of fundamental rights, rights which they thought were synonymous with what the country stands for. And while we may differ among ourselves on exactly what this country DOES stand for, we need to think about the fact that two of the most intrusive new government spying programs, TIPS and the Office of Total Information Awareness, were nominally scaled back in large part because of resistance from the right.


Fourth, we have to unite with and fan the flames of the local governments across the country who are adopting statements of opposition to the USA Patriot Act. These stands by local government have the effect of encouraging people to actually refuse to participate in enforcement mechanisms, and they further de-legitimize the federal government’s actions in people’s eyes.


Fifth, we have to organize legal challenges to key new repressive measures. Now Mr. Dooley was right. The Supreme Court does follow the elections, or, as in the current case, decides the election. But legal challenges are one of the mechanisms by which victories won in the broader society get codified into law, as we saw through the whole Civil Rights movement. It is a part of exposing the system to pursue these cases with competence and vigor, and not shy away from them because the federal bench is so bad. Yes, there are such things as bad precedents, but the worst precedent of all is to acquiesce.


Sixth, we have to promote and uphold new standards among popular movements that actually obstruct snitching, surveillance, and repression. Too often individuals and organizations accept the government’s claim that if we don’t make all our affairs public, then we must have something to hide. We need to turn that argument on its head. In THIS society, with THESE maniacs in power, you have to be crazy to open up all your business to government spying. And organizations that practice good security are to be emulated, not viewed with suspicion.


Here I would also add that there have been some ugly and unprincipled attacks on a number of forces in the new burgeoning antiwar movement. Red-baiting, celebrity-bashing, and black-listing have never served a progressive purpose and have no place in our people’s movements.


There is a particular need to be vigilant of the rights of the antiwar movement. It is ominous that New York was the only city in the world where protestors were forbidden to march on February 15, and this was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals. Protestors were also brutalized by the cops. Yet politically, that day was a set-back for the establishment, as often a failed attempt at repression can open up a whole new wave of resistance.


Finally, we need to foster a climate, a culture, and a community of resistance where the only honorable way to live is to refuse to take part in their Jingoist orgy and to resist every effort to take away our liberties. What about the example of Toni Smith, the Manhattanville basketball player who turns her back on the flag as the national anthem is played at the beginning of every game! I was honored to be one of the organizers of Poems Not Fit for the White House at the Lincoln Center that gave a platform to some of America’s greatest poets to speak out. Even events like book discussions or video showings in people’s homes can be vehicles for grass roots resistance.


The points of resistance that I have laid out are the program of Refuse & Resist!, but not in a proprietary sense. They are actually a common program of resistance that we all need to take up. Over the last year, this national civil liberties emergency has led to a lot closer working relationship between the organizations fighting this, and we need to continue putting our heads together and our efforts together.


The good news is that our rulers are not invincible. There is a cabal of very evil men in power in Washington, and people sense it. People don’t want to live in the new Rome. But the rulers are in fact vulnerable because their program is not in the interests of the people of the world, nor even in the interests of 90% of the American people. They are vulnerable precisely because of the wildness of their gamble and the extent to which they are filled with hubris. They are also very dangerous in the short run. They intend to deal with any and all opposition by force.


Early last year, Bob Avakian published what many now consider a prescient essay entitled “The New Situation and the Great Challenges.” He outlined how the rulers of this country had taken September 11 as an opportunity to institute great changes at home and abroad. The prospect of something very terrible was -- and still is -- on the horizon. But he also pointed out that in doing this they stirred up a cauldron of contradictions, and if the people resist -- and ONLY if they resist -- the chance exists to bring into being a far better world.


I think that is profoundly true. Over the past year we have seen outrageous crimes and new crimes in the making, but we have also seen the beginnings of the resistance. There are truly great challenges before us, and the future is not yet written.



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C. Clark Kissinger

e-mail:    cck@dissident.info

web site: www.dissident.info

phone:    212-941-8086