So, yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day, recognizing the birth of out great nation and the courage of the men who took on the world’s greatest empire to be free of oppression. Despite my general curmudgeonliness about many things, I do love the Fourth. I read the Declaration of Independence each Fourth of July and spent the hour before the fireworks talking to Sal 11000 Beta about our history and what it all really means (the iPad was out of juice).
Today is the Fifth of July. And on the fifth of July, we clear away the beer cans and fireworks and return to a nation that is doing far more to us than George III ever imagined.
For example, we live in a nation in which 80,000 SWAT raids are launched every year, only 7% of which involve an active shooter or similar situation. One- to two-thirds of these raids turn up no contraband of any kind. If you’re thinking that statistic sounds a bit murky, you’re right: hundreds of police agencies told the ACLU they were no under obligation to even reveal the number of SWAT raids they launch every year. Some of them have put these raids under the command of a private agency and declared information about them to be “trade secrets”. These raids can result in things like blowing holes in two-year old children.
We live in a nation where the Administration, when pressed to explain how they can claim the authority to drone strike Americans in foreign countries who might be terrorists, release a heavily redacted memo to justify their actions. That justification essentially amounts to “because terrorism”.
We live in a country where the NSA has now admitted that it shares an unknown amount of information with the FBI. The nature of this data is not clear but it is unlikely that it all involves counter-terrorism. And we know that the DEA has used similar information to bring drug charges and then lied about where they got the information from.
These are just a few examples of what is going on in the Land of the Free. I have chosen them because they are so far outside the pale — military raids on civilians, military attacks on Americans and universal surveillance. But would anyone doubt that our federal government has also “refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good”? That it has “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”? That our government, when its agents do wrong, goes about “protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States”?
The thing is, we don’t have to fight a long and brutal war to change this. We still have the power of the vote and, more importantly, we still have the power of our voice. We have shown, in recent years, that we can be powerful when we try. Over the last few years, we curbed runaway spending, stopped SOPA and have turned the tide in the War on Drug (although the dark forces behind all three are relentless, and they will keep pushing until they get more spending, less internet freedom and more drug raids).
We can stop this leviathan of a state without a shot being fired. But we need to focus on fighting it instead of each other. When politicians see the Tea Party and Occupy attacking each other instead of their common foe, they laugh. We have to stop caring whether the person agitating about a bad government policy is a Republican, a Democrat, a libertarian, a communist or a crypto-monarchist. If “our side” supports a bad policy, we still have to oppose it. And if “the other side” opposes a bad policy, we should make alliance with them, at least on that issue. We can wash our hands after the threat to freedom is squashed.
Let July 4 remain a celebration. But let July 5 be a day we push harder to regain our essential freedoms. Let the rest of the year be a commitment to re-establishing our independence.