One of the things that I love about children is their firm and secure belief in “good guys” and “bad guys”. They see the world in sharp contrasts and clear borders. Criminals are bad guys. Police are good guys.
I wish for that sense of simplicity tonight. I wish that I could hold onto a belief in the honesty and goodness of the police, the government, the men who wear the uniforms. I wish, so much, that I could trust that my children will be safe in the presence of the authorities.
My boys are on their way to Chicago, to join thousands of like minded citizens who want to speak out against the war machine that has kept us in conflict in so many places for so many years. They don’t plan to break any laws or to violate any ordinances; they just want to protest peacefully against policies that they find to be both immoral and dangerous.
The US Constitution, of course, guarantees their right to do that. The First Amendment says :
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So they plan to peaceably assemble, and they plan to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. They will march, chant, maybe bang drums. They will hold signs critical of the NATO war machine. They’ll take the advice of Thomas Jefferson, who said “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
Given the fact that they are American citizens, taxpayers, both gainfully employed, both students, both innocent of any crimes, I should be feeling pretty secure that they are in no danger from the police as long as they are respectful and peaceful. Right?
Ah, if only.
The truth is, I am worried about the 16 hour road trip a little bit. I am worried about the crowd of strangers a little bit, too.
But I am worried about the riot gear, the pepper spray, the batons and the rubber bullets a whole hell of a lot.
I am afraid of the new laws of this theoretically free country that allow the government to arrest and indefinitely hold anyone who might possibly have a connection to some kind of terrorism somewhere. Terrorism that the arresting authorities are allowed to define. I am afraid because the First Amendment is now being constrained in ever more outrageous ways; it is illegal now to protest in any location where the Secret Service is guarding a VIP. Or where they will be guarding one later. Or where they might have to guard a VIP someday.
I am afraid of my government. I am afraid that my sons, those young men who are trying to do what they know to be right, will be unlawfully arrested, detained, hurt, or worse by those who are “sworn to protect and defend.”
I am afraid, honestly, of my government. And that makes me think of Thomas Jefferson again.
“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
So what I want to say to the Chicago Police, the Secret Service, the FBI, the NATO security services is this: Peace!