Paying the Price for Free Speech

I have half-joked for decades that one of the items on my bucket list is to be arrested for civil disobedience. The civil rights movement and the anti-war protests happened while I was safely ensconced in junior high and high school. I got to college in time to see one lone streaker torpedo across campus. There I was, already a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, just in time to wave the glory days of folk music good-bye. I felt cheated.

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders . . . and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves . . . [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. —Howard Zinn

Hah! Little did I know that my timing was not so bad after all. Here I am—yes, a little worn around the edges—smack-dab in the middle of the Wisconsin Uprising, singing my heart out with the Solidarity Sing Along as many times a week as I can. There are some days I can feel the resonance so strongly that I begin to suspect that this is the moment I was born for and have been preparing for since those disappointingly quiet days in college.

The Solidarity Sing Along began the day after an illegal vote was taken in the Wisconsin State Senate to pass a bill destroying the rights of working people. Participants in the spontaneous event understood that their voices were no longer being heard or acknowledged through the formal political structures of the state. They were determined to not be silenced, however, and have continued to voice their opinions on the political issues of the day every single weekday for nearly eighteen months. —Rebecca Kemble, The Progressive Magazine

And now there’s serious trouble afoot. The new chief of the Capitol Police, David Erwin, is cracking down on free speech in the Capitol. Twelve practitioners of free speech have been arrested arrests have been made so far for holding signs without a permit.

If you have to ask permission from the government to protest the government, you don’t really have the right to protest the government!!! The federal and state constitutions are all the permits we need. —sign seen in the capitol this week

So today Friday September 7th at noon we’re singing, again, for free speech, for our friends who have been arrested and fined, for our rights and yours, for the rights of our children. We’re singing because freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental to democracy. Without it we are no more than cogs in the machine—no voice, no power, no access.

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. —Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us will likely gather inside the rotunda, but a few may also gather outside under the tree on Carroll Street (south of the Lady Forward statue) as we have done on Fridays since June. Please come join us! Bring a friend! We’re asking for as much participation from our friends and fellow citizens as possible. Free speech needs you.

Attorneys affiliated with the Madison National Lawyers Guild stand ready to defend anyone who suffers arrest as the result of over-zealous enforcement of the Capitol access policy. Anyone who does suffer such an arrest should not argue with officers or even converse with them about their protest actions. Instead, protesters should do nothing more than ask officers why they are being arrested, ask what the charges are, immediately demand to speak to an attorney, and, if arraigned, plead not guilty. If possible, the protesters should notify someone who is not being arrested that they are being placed in custody so that this individual can contact the protest coordinator of the Madison National Lawyers Guild at 608-352-0138. The coordinator will then attempt to find legal representation for the person who has been arrested. —Madison chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

As you did in February and March last year, come prepared to resist provocation and intimidation peaceably. It’s critically important to our cause that our conduct be above reproach.

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you: pull your beard, flick your face to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.” —John Lennon


We’re also hoping for a large turnout on Monday. And we’ll continue every weekday at noon until Wisconsin gets better. (For news on whether we’re singing inside or out, check the Solidarity Sing Along Facebook page). We’re in this for the long haul. We’re not going away.

We are gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives. —Holly Near

Fired Up! Reclaim Women’s Equality Day

Update: Rally at 4:30pm Monday, not at 1pm, as previously announced!

I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of the venomous anti-woman agenda of the Republican party, the leadership of which is more concerned about proving to the right-wing extremists controlling their party that they’re really as anti-abortion as it’s possible to be. It’s ridiculous to call them “pro-life” because they oppose abortion even to save a woman’s life. I don’t know what that is, but it sure as hell isn’t “pro-life.” It comes closer to pro-death.

The Republican anti-woman agenda includes denying women equal pay for equal work, aggressively going after Planned Parenthood and other women’s health care providers, outlawing abortion, and limiting access to contraceptives. Now all are agape at Todd Akin’s supposed slip, in which he says exactly what he means, reiterating the right-wing fantasy that in cases of “legitimate” rape a woman has the magical power to “shut the whole thing down” and prevent pregnancy. The obvious implication is that if you get pregnant from rape, it isn’t a “legitimate” rape. Whatever the hell that is.

Since then, Akin and every Republican running for office across the land have fallen all over themselves trying to back away from Akin’s callous remarks and what they reveal: the party’s deep-seated contempt for women. That’s what this is really all about. Women, who apparently lie about rape and are prone to hysteria, cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies.

This message is brought to you by the toxic rape culture in which we live. The message is precisely the same as that of every rapist: “You don’t get to decide what happens to your own body. I do.”

Rep. Akin, you are seriously mistaken. You and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and all the other sad little members of the Republican misogynists’ club. Enough of you! Over ninety years ago the women of this country rose up and fought like hell for the right to vote and the right to hold public office. In the spirit of their fight and what they achieved, we are rising up too, for the sake of our daughters and sons, for the sake of our planet, for the sake of our democracy.

In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 of each year as “Women’s Equality Day.” Eager as we are to acknowledge all that our foremothers accomplished, we also recognize that we have a lot more work to do to gain women full equality and the respect they deserve.

On Monday, August 27, at 1pm 4:30pm, all of you women and the men who support you, join us on the west side of the Wisconsin State capitol in Madison for “Reclaim Women’s Equality Day.” After we gather, we’ll encircle the capitol in a live demonstration of our commitment to continue the work of our foremothers in ensuring women’s equality.

You members of the misogynist party, we’re putting you on notice. We’re fired up, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!

Update! Update! Update!

The time of the Reclaim Women’s Equality Day rally has been changed to 4:30pm on Monday. Please help spread the word!

Dear Russ: An Open Letter to Russ Feingold

Dear Russ,

We know you have said repeatedly that you would not run for public office in 2012, and we have tried repeatedly to respect and honor that. But over and over again the idea comes sailing back, that the one person who would be best for Wisconsin in this exceptional historical moment, for so many reasons, is you.

Feingold
Photo courtesy of the Run, RUSS, Run Facebook page.

Yesterday’s decisive millionfold denunciation of the Fitzwalker regime underscores what a historic moment this is, not only in Wisconsin history, but in U.S. history. Recall elections in themselves are quite rare, and this may very well be the most extraordinary of all. There’s no question but that this represents a singular opportunity for the people of Wisconsin. After having sustained so many wounds at the hands of the soon-to-be former regime, Wisconsin is in need of healing. There are a multitude of reasons why so many of us find ourselves looking to you, not to save us, but to lead us as we seek to clear up the rubble and reassert the values we hold most dear.

We know you and we trust you. As our senator, you listened to us. You respected us. And you proved yourself to be an effective advocate for us. What we said and needed mattered to you. This is in stark contrast to the Fitzwalkers’ refusal to listen to or care about the concerns of the people of Wisconsin.

You have a proven record of bipartisan cooperation, as evidenced in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform of 2002. The Fitzwalkers have been nothing if not divisive. But here in Wisconsin we have a tradition of listening to each other and working together, regardless of ideology and party affiliation, and we desperately need to return to that tradition of mutual respect and cooperation.

It’s truly a wonder that any sane, decent person would want to run for office in this country’s current political climate, which resembles nothing so much as Hurricane Katrina in more ways than one. So really, we can understand why you’d want to be shut of it. But alas, your reticence to run is evidence of your sanity and decency and is, in fact, one of the best reasons why you are our first choice.

Scott Walker is bad for Wisconsin in large part because of his overreaching power grabs. He is more of a despot than a governor. He listens only to the 1 percent (as evidenced by his scandalous public conversation with pseudo-Koch), and he treats the rest of us with utter disdain and contempt. And here you are, resisting the pursuit of political power. Nothing convinces us more thoroughly that you are the man of the moment.

Those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who … have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. —Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We know there are other good candidates that could run against Walker. But none of them would inspire us and energize us as much as you would. None would have our confidence or enthusiasm as much as you would. There’s no one we would fight harder for or be prouder of.

Maybe if this were an ordinary election in a less turbulent time, we would be satisfied with a good candidate and celebrate your new role as our fellow activist. But this is no ordinary time, and we need more than an ordinary candidate to run against Walker.

Feingold 2012

Many of the other possibilities would be good. But you would be great. And that’s what the people of Wisconsin long for and need in this critical moment. Please, please, let us sweep you into office and lead us as we begin a new era in Wisconsin history. Listen to us as you once did.

Run, Russ! Run!

Privatized Profits, Socialized Risk

No matter how outraged you are, it’s impossible to keep up (h/t Lily Tomlin). In last week’s installment of “Let’s Hope No One’s Paying Attention,” the Bank of America moved uninsured Merrill derivatives to its commercial bank’s federally insured ledgers. In other words, if Bank of America fails, the FDIC must clean up its mess. And apparently the FDIC isn’t any too happy about it. But the Fed is reportedly all in favor of the move. Matt Taibbi explains: “Essentially, an irresponsible debtor, B of A, is keeping a loan shark from breaking his legs by getting his rich parents to co-sign his loan. The parents in this metaphor would be the FDIC.” Actually, the “parents” would be both the FDIC (Mom) and the Federal Reserve (Dad). But Dad is egging the miscreant on instead of calling him to account.

The Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation was created by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, when Depression with a capital D had brought the country to its knees, leading to the bank panic of 1933. The Glass-Steagall Act separated investment banking from commercial banking in order to protect depositors (like you and me) from the risk inherent in investment banking. In effect, it prevented Wall Street from gambling with money deposited in commercial banks. And it created the FDIC to protect commercial banks’ deposits.

In 1999, Republicans, enjoying a majority in both chambers of Congress and counting on nobody paying attention (all too often a safe bet), passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the part of Glass-Steagall that prohibited a single institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company. During the debate over the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Rep. John Dingall (D-Michigan), eloquently warned of the consequences: “Under of this legislation … liability in one area is going to fall over in the liability of the next. Taxpayers are going to be called upon to cure the failures that we’re creating tonight. And it’s going to cost a lot of money.”

So the riskier Merrill Lynch liability is now spilling over into the federally insured liability of Bank of America’s commercial operation. And, as predicted, taxpayers are being called upon to cure the failures created by Congress in 1999. Jonathan Weil reports:

Unfortunately, none of the actors here went on the record to explain what’s going on. We don’t know what kinds of derivatives these are, or even the dollars at stake, only that they are big enough to make the FDIC upset. The entire story would be playing out in secret were it not for some unidentified whistleblowers who seem to have this crazy idea that the public should be informed about what the regulators and Bank of America are up to.

We’ve been told the Dodd-Frank Act passed by Congress last year would end federal bailouts of large banks. It doesn’t exactly do that, though. Taxpayer money still would be at risk in the event that the FDIC has to exercise its new resolution powers. … While the law says the FDIC is supposed to tap the banking industry to pay for any eventual losses, it’s hard to imagine the agency could ever charge enough to cover the costs from a failure at a company with $2.2 trillion of assets.

So in spite of the outcry of Occupy Wall Street, the behemoth Bank of America, in all of its too-big-to-fail glory, is still acting as though no one is paying any attention. Hiding behind the voluminous skirts of the FDIC, whose deposit insurance “is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government,” B of A continues its dance of privatized profits backed by socialized risk. Where are the decriers of socialism when you need them?