It’s easy to look at the events of Election Day and draw the wrong conclusion. It’s tempting to conclude that what happened after a long cruel and repressive eight years is that our democracy simply worked once again and proved to be self-correcting. Easy to breathe a sigh of relief and turn back to cultivating our regular pursuits.
Easy — but wrong. The right lesson to take from this election is NOT that the system is in working order without our active and radical participation. Rather, we should understand that we were, as a people, in direct engagement with other actors who sought to subvert our liberties in a dynamic and delicate feedback loop. Our actions checked their actions; our decision making on the part of thousands and millions shifted the landscape so that the worst could not take place — so that their decision making was likely to have been altered.
What do I mean? I have said that since October 1st we have been in a situation in which a coup has taken place. I stand entirely by that statement — with the update that we have taken steps to counter the further progression of that coup FOR NOW. This is cause for both rejoicing and caution as well as for understanding the lessons learned. Even such established historians as Chalmers Johnsons have described Bush’s subversion of the rule of law as ‘a coup d’etat’ and I argued that with the deployment of the First Brigade — four thousand battle-hardened warriors — onto US soil, that coup had gone from a theoretical legal nexus to one that could be activated in military terms with the stroke of a Presidential pen or a simple Presidential statement. Those who follow my posts know that, from my study of the history of closing societies, I was worried about a closely-fought election, made close by the multiple attempts at vote hacking and vote suppression which the Republicans had set in motion, and I was worried about citizen unrest as an excuse for an assertion that we were in a ‘state of emergency.’ Many serious historians, most recently the author of Angler, have noted that Cheney’s interest in Continuity of Government processes that suspend the Constitution, draw dissidents into detention and deploy military for domestic security dates back to his active work on such plans in the 1980′s and many others note that some aspects of the COG plan were indeed temporarily set in motion on Sept. 11. Many have noted the proliferating legislation — from the Military Commissions Act of 2007 to Bush’s signing statement refusing Congress’ limitations on military deployment — that would make such a step easy.
Obviously that did not take place –- nothing like it did. But why? Should we never have been concerned about these laws being crafted and lying around like loaded AK-47s? I would argue that it was our caution that prevented any such disruption. I have been saying for two years now that in a closing society the one sure protection is for millions of citizens to draw the line at the same time in multiple ways. This creates a ‘herding cats’ effect, making it far more difficult for threatening plans to be set successfully into motion. Other elements that protect citizens at such a delicate time are awareness — so they can’t be lied to or shocked or intimidated by an official story line as easily — and the threat of prosecution. When would-be dictators realize their actions, if they have even a chance of backfiring or proving not successful, will lead to real jail time for them and their cronies or worse — they tend to re-strategize and choose a less risky path. History is full of plans for coups — including ‘stealth coups’ like the subversion of foreign elections or intimidation of the opposition in other countries by US operatives (see John Perkins’ work on this, for instance) that were averted or revised or abandoned because the atmosphere became more dynamic — the people were vigilant — and the legal and judicial system had stepped up its own threat level against those who would subvert a constitutional system. What happened last week? The people stepped up on multiple fronts at once. They were, for once, not passive. Many hundreds of grassroots voting rights activist had toiled for years to investigate vote tampering. These citizens faced ridicule, neglect and marginalization. But in one of those moments of critical mass that you get when enough people speak up, the culture shifted — there were some major stories in the mainstream news media about vote tampering — and Mike Connell was subpoenaed to testify about having allegedly hacked the vote in Ohio after Stephen Spoonamore had come forward and blown the whistle on Bush/Cheney’s history of vote suppression and election fraud. So even as hundreds of examples of vote-flipping, machine shortages and other oddities — all of them, with few exceptions, benefiting the Republicans — popped up throughout the nation, all over that same nation citizens THIS TIME were observing, recording and reporting them to the voting rights’ groups’ hotlines. And their work was strengthened by media scrutiny: because the media finally understood from citizens’ raised voices how broad a base of support for such investigation there was, THIS TIME CNN set up a bold and to-be-duplicated initiative, that let citizens report vote theft or tampering on a national platform in real time. Mark Crispin Miller, one of the true unsung heroes of this era in history — a vote-theft documentarian who was obsessively, tirelessly and in the face of what has until lately been a media blackout been tracking these stories for years in town after town and region after region — argues persuasively that it was the combination of high turnout, mass voter scrutiny, multiple legal actions, and the Connell subpoena that allowed Obama to prevail. (On Monday evening, just a few hours before Connell’s deposition, Rove suddenly reversed himself, forecast ‘an electoral landslide’ for Obama, and thereby ‘pulled the plug’ on the attempt to block Obama’s victory.) And their work was strengthened by media scrutiny: because the media finally understood from citizens’ raised voices how broad a base of support for such investigation there was, THIS TIME CNN set up a bold and to-be-duplicated initiative, that let citizens report vote theft or tampering on a national platform in real time. Mark Crispin Miller, one of the true unsung heroes of this era in history — a vote-theft documentarian who was obsessively, tirelessly and in the face of what has until lately been a media blackout been tracking these stories for years in town after town and region after region — argues persuasively that it was the combination of mass voter scrutiny, multiple legal actions, and the Connell subpoena that led to the counter-coup.
I would say the background drumbeat of ‘prosecute’ helped a great deal as well. And for the first time the ‘prosecute’ call — which I am proud to say the American Freedom Campaign has been out front with for more than a year — has been given real teeth by the promise of Charlotte Dennett, in her campaign for Attorney General in Vermont, to draw up the indictments of Bush and other high officials. Such prosecution is not dependent on her victory: she and Vincent Bugliosi spelled out a clear roadmap to prosecution that any AG can follow in any of the states. And Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights has an important new book out demonstrating how to prosecute Donald Rumsfeld. History shows that this drumbeat of a real threat of prosecution does more to deter would-be coup leaders than even the mass activation of the people’s voices raised in saying No.
So all these elements came together — and gave us that miracle, a mostly transparent, mostly accountable election and the prospect of a peaceful transition. (Though I will relax fully only after Inauguration Day, especially since Bush stressed helpfully how much terrorists like ‘transitions’ as times of ‘vulnerability’ for a nation. He soothingly added the examples of Madrid and London, both of which were struck by attacks soon before or after a national election. It is like the end of a horror movie in which you think the villain is dead but he rises up and just keeps trying to threaten the fleeing babysitter with a machete).
Then — just to remind you that we may have won the battle but we are in a war — the day after Obama’s win — the military announced that two more brigades would be deployed to the US to set up a permanent military beachhead on our soil. Unless these are disbanded by Obama, unless he restores Posse Comitatus, they — or their who-knows-how many brothers and sisters to join them — are ready for use by the next Republican president. Just like the aspects of legislation that have been seeded ‘like bombs in a minefield,’ as Frontline producer and director of Bush’s Law Michael Kirk noted, so deeply, or buried in secret directives that no one is likely to find all of them who does not know they are there; he argues that these too can be activated by the next Rovian protégé in power.
Practicing proactive citizenship — citizenship undertaken in a revolutionary spirit by people who are aware of how fragile democracy is and how easily it can be subverted or even overthrown, and who, above all, take personal responsibility for their and the nation’s safety — is like practicing safe sex. In both cases, you can never know for sure exactly what kind of horror exactly you have averted for yourself and for others. But if you don’t take such steps you are suicidally stupid and irresponsible. And if you do, you can know that you are taking the wise steps, the grown-up steps, the steps that do avert horrors.
In the case of the millions of Americans who said No to a stolen vote or worse, it is that personal responsibility, that decision to take an action step, that brings about real, healing, saving change.
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