Beliefnet
Progressive Revival


             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
stuped 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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