Allow me, after roughing you up a bit, to tell you a personal story and offer a quick glimpse into my journey as a political activist over several years, and through two presidential administrations. I offer this as an illustration as to why we need to be less sure of ourselves, more measured in our passions and perhaps to reassess how much we think we know about our own government.
The unfortunate events which occurred in the nations capitol,
the misled but entirely legitimate rage of America's abandoned labor class, is being used to push a transparently undemocratic agenda;
the ongoing censorship of unpopular political opinion through google and social media algorithms, the elimination of fact inconvenient to the prevailing narrative, closing down Parlor, the most popular downloaded app on Apple, abruptly forced off the internet by three of the four big tech platforms and more frightening, the retooling of the War on Terror to fit domestic needs.
After the bludgeoning of the free speech rights of the angry mob, the left will quickly find itself in the crosshairs of these same new laws, for whom I believe, they are being crafted. The actual left, those that practice the political; activists.
Real activism is dangerous. What is now being proposed and embraced by democrats as patriotic, will make it more so. The first amendment is there to protect "unpopular speech". People who have never been activists, or risked arrest, have little idea how dangerous it can be to embarrass or speak truth to power. Those individuals I most respect as sources, have either had their careers ruined, gone to or narrowly avoided going to jail or worse.
My own activism began pre-Snowden and lasted some short time after the Occupy movement. It was at this point I decided I could no longer continue and worried I would be putting my family in jeopardy. Snowden had made Americans aware of my civil liberties concerns and the non violent protest movement I had been vigorously advocating for amongst the activist community, had spread both across the country and the planet. It was time to retire.
We travel a lot. Every time we crossed a border I worried I would be arrested for my political work. Following a casual interview on the plane which ended with our late arrival in the Twin Cities, Annette and I, split up during the flight, realized we hadn't enough time to make our connection. The man sitting next to Annette, several seats away, announced that he would make a phone call on our behalf and have them wait till we arrived. We sprinted to the gate, they closed the hatch behind us, and the plane took off directly. They had definitely waited. Perhaps just another coincidence but I was sure of my having been interviewed and that this was the second time while passing though this particular airport that I had been.
During this period, my seat, and the mirror inside the locked car, would be in the wrong places when we returned to retrieve the vehicle at the airport. Admittedly, the subject matter I was dealing with on a daily basis, for several hours or more a day, seven days a week, for several years, was rather stressful. I had hard time convincing myself I was merely being paranoid.
In PDX, I was pulled aside and told there was bomb making residue in my back pack. Held for a couple hours, during which time I lectured my guards on the loss of their civil liberties as a result of the War on Terror, we barely managed to make it on the airplane. Upon arrival in San Francisco, we drove to our favorite Mexican spot in the Mission. Within minutes we received a call from the SFPD, explaining the rental car had been broken into, a smash and grab, right after we had parked it, witnessed by a store owner. Perhaps the two events were unconnected ? I was already nervous, and this incident did little to put my mind at ease.
A piece I had written, Dancing with Tyrants, the posting of which months earlier had led to many sleepless nights, and some contention, was I believe the second most read piece after Hedges, on the site originally set up by activists to aid in the planned occupation of DC. Both posts advocated mass civil disobedience.
Set up by among others, Kevin Zeese and Margret Flowers, the site later morphed into popular resistance. org. That single post was the extent of my association with that organization, though I followed their exploits and later court appearances, as they risked serious prison time to protest American foreign policy at the Venezuelan embassy.
On firedoglake, Jane Hamsher and the moderators faced a quandary in my publishing Dancing with Tyrants there. Rain in particular, felt that I would land them all in jail and I understood his reservations. He moved to censor my involvement on the site and I believe decided to himself either he or I would go. He departed the blog soon after and his ample contributions were lost to the community. I think to this day that Jane was probably the most savvy political operator on the field. It was a privilege to have known and interacted with these people.
As activists made feverish arrangements to gather in DC, Occupy Wall Street appeared to come out of nowhere, moved the location from DC to NYC, the timetable up by weeks and the original Occupation in DC never occurred.
One morning about this time, as was my routine, I walked into the only cafe in our little town of 3,500 people, and Phil, the owner informed me, "Star, this guy wants to talk to you". JJ Sandlin, a large bald fellow with a long coat and a derby, introduced himself as a personal friend of the Clintons, and the Annapolis roommate of the Dep Sec of Def. He then went on to tell me, a complete stranger, that he had seen my wife walking to the store earlier and wondered how such a beautiful woman could have ended up in Goldendale. He claimed he had recently been offered a position as a judge on one of the Appeals Courts but was also considering other projects, which is what had brought him to me. He wrote in a small notepad as we spoke.
I decided if I was to be interviewed again and as they obviously knew where I lived, we may as well continue the conversation at my home, a block away. My kids ran past and up the stairs, we sat in the living room, Annette present throughout, and discussed my political concerns; torture, rendition, secret prisons, the secret assassinations of American citizens and others outside a court of law, domestic spying, etc... for a number of hours, after which he remarked that our car looked good and sturdy and perhaps I would like to continue our conversations further, as he owned a house and vineyard near Yakama about an hour north of where we live. For the few that might get a good laugh at an inside joke I was asked, "Star, you connected with the UFO group in Trout Lake "? I'm not. I assumed John Podesta had pitched the question from afar. He left his name and number and departed.
In my mind I was probably being offered a job to co opted me and was fairly sure I would be used in the association to shore up something they may have missed in their calculus and that we likely didn't have the same agenda. Maybe that was just my own cynicism and I've done the man a disservice. Allow me to add some context.
I had a long history at Think Progress as a poster, before and after Bush, had met all the young guns in person in DC, several of whom now work for the Intercept. Before Obama's election, I joked with Faiz Shakir on the site, who went on to head the ACLU, that they should be paying us for doing their work for them, as a good number of us posted on the site several hours a day or more.
The entire community at the time was wedded to opposing Americans loss of basic rights, civil liberties and far more unsavory details that you probably don't want to know about. Few people outside a small circle of activists had any idea of the extent of what was actually happening inside the country before the Snowden revelations but we were here before Snowden, he and Greenwald just delivered the coup de gras, and we helped with that too.
John Kiriacou had yet to be incarcerated under the espionage act and we hung torture over the shoulders of the Bush administration like an albatross in front of a sizeable audience. The blogsite attached to the democratic party's only think tank, Think Progress, was only too happy to have us and all the energy the community of bloggers was bringing it. We felt as though we were pushing back a monster and we were.
This was all quite fraternal until Obama won the election and Bush left office. Suddenly, it was the Obama administration that was embracing and expanding these abuses, and exponentially. Defending them in court, the state secret privilege. Torturing continued according to the Red Cross, at Bagram.
I began to receive threats online and was sent links with viruses in the replies. The comment section we had previously inhabited, filled up with vulgarities before being removed entirely. We were no longer useful.
Marcy Wheeler, a regular firebagger, hit it out of the park, and the Obama administration was caught defending extra judicial assassination, having gone so far as to assassinate three Americans ,that we knew of. The youngest sixteen, by drone at a cafe, all of which was initially denied. The administration's attempts to do damage control were comic tragedy.. The NYT tried to put a human face to secret assassinations and gave us Terror Tuesdays. Welcome to the Disposition Matrix.
Obama went on, despite campaigning on protecting whistleblowers, to prosecute more whistleblowers under the revived and draconian Espionage Act, than all other presidents combined.
I never called Mr. Sandlin, but did end up in Zuccotti Park with my family. We were among the first there. A few days later Occupy spread across the planet and to hundreds of US cities, where it remained non violently for more than a year. To say I found this empowering would be a serious understatement. We were on fire.
Firedoglake regulars worked to provide blankets and supplies to the encampments, provided moral support to John Kiriacou in prison, buying a swing set for his kids and were the only ones provided access to Chelsea Manning in jail. The bloggers on the site had became notorious.
Occupy had become a global movement and would erupt again many months later, in places like Hong Kong and Turkey.
Every time I flirt with the idea of becoming a serious activist again, I shake, get sick to my stomach and deal with a good several day bout of PTSD.
Besides making dialogue between the two camps impossible, a good portion of you here, usually the ones who are quickest to take offense when a modicum of the same behavior is applied to themselves, are making a bad job, done in the shadows at great expense, a good deal more dangerous.