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Friday, February 3, 2012

Constitution and Dissent

Barry, My Liege:

One question for our time is this: How can the USA avoid sliding toward societal polarization with extremes of poverty and wealth concentration?

Other countries have done it successfully in the past. That gives rise to the hope that we can also.

Both Sweden and Norway had polarized societies at the turn of the 20th Century with massive poverty and a rich class that controlled the country.

In both countries, workers formed unions and cooperatives that called general strikes and challenged the existing system.

Troops were called out and the strikes and cooperatives were broken. But, the movement toward equality continued on a non-violent path and ultimately won power away from the one percent. Here's how George Lakey says it in 'wagingnonviolence.org': "Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty."

My Liege, you may be wondering what this has to do with the USA and our Constitution. Put very simply, the Swedish and Norwegian governments did not have anti-terrorist secret police in place at that time. There was no procedure to arrest, torture or kill strike leaders in secret. Any police or military action had to be public.

The inability of both governments to arrest and detain or kill union leaders in secret allowed unions to continue striking and pressing for equality.

If we come forward to the USA of today, we find a Constitution which has been compromised in response to terror threats to the point that procedural protections against criminal or violent acts by government agents acting in secret appear broken. Plus, we have a vast array of technology directed toward identifying terrorists and troublemakers.

My personal experience with No-Fly lists and terrorist screening databases involves a very close relative who is a business man and father and a completely upstanding citizen. Because of business obligations, he travels frequently with short notice and an undetermined return schedule. He is routinely selected for extra screening and has missed flights because he is on some list. He cannot find out which list or why he is there, nor can he find a procedure to remove his name from that mysterious list.

My Liege, I am pretty sure that both the Swedish and Norwegian governments of the time would have used those extra legal powers to crush dissent, if the technology and the laws were available.

Here is the conundrum we face in the United States: We need protest movements to continue pressing for more equality, but we have police and legal structures in place with the ability to neutralize those protest movements.

Forgive me, My Liege, if I am restating the obvious. But, the problem is compelling.

Of course, I would like to point a way out of the maze and will try to do so.

Let us recognize this fact: Some rich and powerful among us do not want change for they fear losing power. That fear will likely compel them to press for suppression of dissent. If they succeed in mobilizing government resources against protest, the USA will likely continue its slide toward polarization.

The remedy is simple, My Liege. This is the remedy: Install a new procedure or Court that must review and approve any action taken to monitor, detain, arrest or kill any American citizen involved in dissent or protest. Such a procedure is likely to be a review court composed of elected or appointed experienced legal scholars and judges.

The intention of such a Court is to prevent monied powers from perverting secret police powers and using them to suppress dissent and the peaceful seeking of redress of grievances.

My hope, My Liege, is that such a procedure can conform to the spirit of the Constitution which trusts no man, but trusts only processes.

With such a process in place, then we will have the ability to secure a more just society. Of course, perhaps such a process already exists and I am simply unaware of it.

Your faithful servant,

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