Sunday, July 5, 2009

Freedom is just a Word

Our 18th century founding fathers and ancestors fought against tyranny from the British, but did not hesitate for a moment to practice tyranny on the slaves. They saw fit to exclude all but property owners from the right to participate in representative democracy. Our 19th-century ancestors had a Supreme Court that in 1896 that decided that institutions serving blacks and whites were "separate but equal"--a lie that the judges could observe every time they opened their eyes.

The last 50 years of American society have been hindered by millions of uninformed, anti-intellectual Americans who viewed themselves as "Patriots" and who never hesitated to waive the American flag and say "my country right or wrong!", but sadly never bothered to read books or keep themselves informed on issues.

On a return from a trip to Borneo in 2002, I was asked by immigration for officials if I had a business card. I responded by asking them if I had a legal right to refuse presenting it since I was presenting myself with a valid passport. They called the supervisor, who informed me that it was helpful for me to present it, but that I was not legally required to do so. I responded that our rights have value only if we use them, refusing to present the card that was sitting in my pocket.

Given the fact that America has operated the School for the Americas in Georgia, an institute where the police of the dictators throughout Latin America and elsewhere learned torture techniques from US trained teachers with taxpayer money. The US supported Pinochet in Chile, the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Iran during the fifties, Somoza in Nicaragua, Marcos in the Philippines and a host of other dictators around the world. It is therefore difficult and somewhat embarrassing for Americans to talk about freedom our nation has exported dictatorship and repression for decades.

At home, off-duty policeman acted like thugs for large businesses to break up union
organizers in the early part of the 20th century. The Sedition Act sent Americans to prison for speaking their minds on issues. FBI agents went to prison in the sixties for shooting members of the Black Panther group in their beds, while a Latina friend of mine had to ask a white girlfriend to buy candy for her at a candy store in Texas in the 1960's, when she was eight years old, because she wasn't allowed in the store. Those of us born before 1960 have witnessed three fixed elections (1960-Illinois, 2000-Florida-2004 Ohio). The Patriot Act is an open invitation to abuse ordinary people in America.

For much of our history, to quote Gil Scott Heron, "freedom is just a word", just another word.

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