Monday, January 23, 2012

Occupy the Courts: Bangor

More than 50 people rallied at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor to mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. Protestors included nine "supreme court judges" in black robes, five of which also sported sashes bedecked with corporate logos.

Occupy groups in Bangor, Ellsworth and Blue Hill organized the event, including Alliance member Starr Gilmartin and AfD vice co-chair Bonnie Preston. Bonnie spoke on the need to eliminate all corporate access to constitutional rights, and the importance of defending the right to pass local rights-based ordinances to claim sovereignty of people over corporations, as has been done in some towns in Maine and New Hampshire to protect water from exploitation by bottlers, and to defend farm-to-table food sales and local farms in five Maine towns last spring.

The keynote speaker was Rob Shetterly, an artist from Brooksville who's painted a series of portraits, Americans Who Tell the Truth. Rob travels all over the country to speak in schools and libraries about his portraits, and picks a small group of paintings, which generally have a unifying theme, to take to each talk. Here's what he said at the rally:

You may know about the huge lion that waddled into the Fat Cats restaurant & sat down & yelled at the waiter, “I’ll take the zebra! Don’t cook it. Bring me the whole thing.” So, the waiter dragged over the zebra carcass & the lion went to work, gnawing, ripping, tearing, & gulping down the muscles and organs, the head, the eyes & ears, the hooves, & finally chewing up & swallowing all the bones. Then the lion, blood dripping still from his jaws, motioned to the waiter. When the waiter came over, the lion belched & said, “Well, if you are what you eat, I must be a zebra now!” And then he laughed so hard at his own joke, he fell off his chair.

This is exactly what has happened to democracy in this country, and the fat cats are still laughing. Capitalism swallowed democracy and claimed that a vanished democracy is capitalism. That capitalism, an exploitative economic system, not democracy, an egalitarian political system, is what guarantees our rights and fulfills our dreams. But it did not have to be that way, and it doesn’t now. As Ashley Sanders, one of the Occupy Movements organizers & theoreticians says, Capitalism is not inevitable. Poverty is not inevitable. In other words, they’re fallible. They can be fought, resisted. In that sense, Occupy is not an occupation, but a giant exercise in decolonization. It’s a battle to oust the false masters of our minds.

Back in the 1930s after an economic boom & bust eerily similar to the cycle we are in now, the great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “You can have democracy, or you can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. You cannot have both.”

Why is that true? It’s true because great wealth translates into power, the power of control and influence, the power that buys the major media and shapes the message to its benefit making democracy impossible --- a people who aren’t informed of the truth by objective media are incapable of being good citizens. It’s the power that bribes both political parties and creates a system subservient to it; it’s a power in the banking industry and on Wall Street that gambles with people’s money to the benefit of the banks and the detriment of the people. It’s the power to control the history our children are taught, the power to commodify every aspect of our lives including our children’s dreams and imaginations so that all of our sacred contracts we make with the future in order to perpetuate the health of our minds, our bodies, and our communities are exchanged for contracts for profit taking. It’s the power to ensure that there is no real accountability for the crimes of that wealth, the crimes that decimate landscape, eliminate species, promote wars, exploit people and resources and poison the environment, and lastly, it’s the power to write the laws to protect that wealth’s power behind impregnable walls of special interest legal mumbo jumbo.

As Howard Zinn said, The rule of law does not do away with the unequal distribution of wealth and power, but reinforces that inequality with the authority of law. It allocates wealth and poverty in such calculated and indirect ways as to leave the victim bewildered.

It’s the kind of absurd mumbo jumbo that made the stealing of an election legal in 2000, that allows corporations to privatize profit and socialize cost, register in the Cayman Islands & pay no tax, and pervert the Constitution so that they have the rights of full personhood and their money has free speech. Giving a corporation personhood is like having your body invaded by an insidious disease, a disease which replicates and infiltrates every system of your body --- your heart, your brain, your lungs --- and then the disease says to you, You can see how powerful I am, how integrated I am into your well being, I think you better defer to me on all future decisions if you know what’s best. And instead of taking a huge dose of antibiotics, you say, Right, of course, you are a lot stronger and more powerful than I am, I’ll name you my executor right now.

Richard Grossman, who died in November, and worked for many years at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, & who understood how dangerous legalized corporate power is, how it annuls democratic rights, said, You want sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth? We can't get there obeying Constitutional theory and law crafted by slave masters, imperialists, corporate masters, and Nature destroyers. We can't get there kneeling before robed lawyers stockpiling class plunder precedent up their venerable sleeves. So isn't disobedience the challenge of our age? Principled, inventive, escalating disobedience to liberate our souls, to transfigure our work as humans on this Earth.

In 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr., defined the American Dream. He didn’t measure that dream in quantities of consumption, or in enemies vanquished. He didn’t tout American entitlement nor defend Manifest Destiny. Dr. King defined the Dream in terms of the “riches of freedom and the security of justice.” You see, the wealthy and powerful would have us today lavish praise on Dr. King, but turn his words inside out, invert them so that our Dream should be the freedom of riches and the justice of security. If you aspire to the freedom of riches, then you also believe that exploitation is necessary. Not everyone can share equally in that freedom. Some are more worthy than others. And you want to instruct your court system to solidify that freedom of riches into law. And if you believe in the justice of security, you believe in fear, that anything that keeps you safe --- more war, more torture, more secrecy, more spying, more fear, more suspicion --- is good. The security of justice keeps you secure because it guarantees the same justice for everyone. The justice of security is the frightened privileged building walls around their huge slice of pie.

What is so important and powerful about the Occupy Movement is that it demands the Dream that Dr. King envisioned. It understands what Thoreau meant when he said, The law will never make men free, it is men who have got to make the law free. The Occupy Movement understands what Frederick Douglass meant when he said, Find out what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them. We have submitted for so long to corporate domination, to courts promulgating a system of justice appropriate for oligarchy not democracy, that it’s almost embarrassing to have to come into the streets to insist on the basic ideals we thought we all believed in. But it’s the only way. There is the power of wealth, and then there is the power of people. There is the power of the Supreme Court giving unlimited anonymous, free speech to billionaires, and then there is the power of us here today. There is the power of the drone and the ethic of collateral damage, and then there is the power of the recognition of the inestimable value of every life. When the people have the courage to inhabit their own power, they win, always.

Terry Tempest Williams said, The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. You in the Occupy Movement are the eyes of the future. You are already looking back from a future we know is the right place to be, the place based in justice and living in harmony with nature. We all learned in biology class about the web of nature, how every species, no matter how big or small, how more or less evolved, is equally and mysteriously important in the health and survival of the entire web. Law is like that, too. It’s impossible to dictate that any powerful institution in a society has only one obligation and that is to make money for its investors. To believe in the rightness of a law like that is to live in the fantasy that acts to do not have consequences, that poison belched into the air only affects poor people, that torture is justified when you do it, and that a child’s primary function is as a profit center for selling food dangerous to her health and as a target for media crippling to her imagination. It’s to live in the fantasy that a corporation, like a giant pathological robot, deserves the same rights as fragile, mortal humans. That’s a fantasy we are here to end. One zebra can’t teach a fat cat that lesson, but hundreds can. One zebra is a martyr, a democracy of zebras can occupy a despoiled land and make it flourish. We are the eyes looking back from the future, we have seen the occupation, and it is good.

Our next step must be to amend the Constitution, to strip corporations of personhood and free speech rights, to make every election a fair, publicly funded election --- no personal or corporate funding, to ensure that every citizen at age 18 is registered automatically to vote, to make election day a holiday, and to return the public airwaves to the public so that all candidates receive equal and free airtime.

That’s good for the first step. The next will be to reintegrate our lives with nature’s laws. That’s the tough one.

Thank you.

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