Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: All Hell Breaks Loose at the Capitol

Photo Oct 03, 3 21 18 PM

Thursday was the third day of our U.S. Federal Government shutdown protest, which drew far more protestors and media than before. But the peace at our protest ended abruptly at 2:20 pm.

I heard sirens and saw six police cruisers chasing a black Infiniti down Pennsylvania  Ave. past the reflecting pool towards us. At first I thought it was an escort but then realized it was a chase.

The driver was trying to evade police, but rammed into the barricades at the West Lawn in an attempt to come up the sidewalk toward the Capitol.

The car backed up, hitting a cruiser. As if it were a movie, the police pulled guns and fired 5, 10, 15 rounds at the driver’s window. The tinted glass blew out, but the car turned around and fled back towards Pennsylvania Ave. I heard what I thought was an explosion from behind the trees. It turned out to be a collision with a cruiser.

Within seconds, the U.S. Capitol emergency announcement system warned us to evacuate the grounds. I thought it was a terrorist attack. My heart pounded. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 2

Defund_congress

We returned to the Capitol steps for the second day of the government shutdown. We carried the same signs and spoke the same message, but there were changes from the previous day. Some Capitol Police officers expressed solidarity with our cause, and tourists joined our protest. Both police and tourists are being affected by the shutdown.

A Capitol Police guard walked up to me and jokingly said, “Keep one of those signs for me, I may join you next week.” Surprised, I asked him if he was for real. He said he was dissatisfied because he was working but without pay, a “mission essential employee” caught between the power players in the marble building above him he was guarding.

I asked another cop if he was being paid and he said no, they had to work but they’d have to wait for backpay. “People are getting a little salty around here,” he said. “I may need to take your dollar after this week,” referring to the dollar bill I had taped over my mouth.

All day I watched the police come and go with less suspicion than usual. It felt strange to consider them brethen in the shutdown, although they are. I regarded them with a kind of respect. Here they were guarding the U.S. Capitol from people like us, peaceful protestors (protesting on their behalf too), while the members of Congress they protected discussed our fates. Capitol Police were not getting paid for it, yet they reported to work anyway. Of all the ironies I’ve heard this week, this was one of the most contemptible. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 1

On October 1, the first day of the government shutdown, I joined 50 federal workers in an impromptu all-day protest at the U.S. Capitol. Just hours before, we were indefinitely suspended from our jobs. We reported to work, signed papers acknowledging the furlough and left. We had been preparing for a shutdown for several days, so wasn’t a surprise. It’s the second time I’ve been furloughed this year. The first time was due to the sequester.

The few of us who went to the Capitol didn’t know what to expect. I went there thinking I would be the only one to show up. Several others showed up with the same mindset: disgusted and worried about how being effectively unemployed would affect us.

Most carried signs to express their frustration, but I taped a dollar bill over my mouth as a metaphor for what I believe is the root cause of problems in our government. I believe that money has silenced the voices of reason, voices which should serve as the basis for a functional government. Continue reading

Government Shutdown, Another Episode in “Budget Wars”

At the stroke of midnight on October 1, the workings of the U.S. government will grind to a halt. That is, unless a deeply dysfunctional Congress fuels it with yet another stopgap measure to tide it over for a couple of months.

Technically, when the fiscal year runs out on September 30, the government doesn’t have the legal authority to spend money unless the House and Senate agree on an appropriations bill and the President signs it.

The Republican party is using the budget process to attack the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare–a bill so nauseating to them that the Republican-controlled House has voted to repeal it forty times.

Their latest blackmail offer is to withhold funding unless Obamacare’s individual mandate–a requirement that certain people purchase health insurance–is delayed by one year.

President Obama and Democrats, however, are blasting the GOP for holding the country hostage to their radically conservative base. They are pushing for a “clean” Continuing Resolution. The Senate is certain to reject spending bills with healthcare funding conditions. The clock is ticking. A shutdown is bound to ensue. Continue reading

Occupy Wall Street Turns Two

Photo Sep 15, 5 50 54 PM

Sunday marked the return of Occupy Wall Street to New York City as preparations got underway to celebrate its second birthday on September 17.

There were free teach-ins at Washington Square Park in many subjects, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, Green Living Principles, Economic and Banking issues, Immigration, Climate Change, and Money In Politics. Several hundred people joined the classes which ran throughout the day. People were there to learn and enjoy themselves.

Later there was a walking tour of the financial district around Wall Street. The tour began next to the Wall Street Bull in Bowling Green where people reminisced about their experiences in Zuccotti Park in 2011.

Many spoke about how the movement changed and inspired them to dedicate their lives to activism and change in their communities.

There was nostalgia in Zuccotti Park as people told stories and reminisced with old friends about personal experiences and why they believe the issues underlying the social movement are still relevant.

There was one big difference, however: things were a lot less tense compared to last year at S17. At least, the people were relaxed, although police persisted in closely monitoring the walking tour its entire length. Somehow they seemed to expect law-breaking. Some things haven’t changed much.

The week promises to be more eventful as more rallies in labor, money in politics and tax on Wall Street are scheduled for the anniversary of OWS, September 17.

Silent deterrent to war, Peace Vigil keeps watch over White House

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The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.

In the middle of the night Park Police disassembled and carted off the vigil’s tent and signs when its watchman left. Vigil supporters contacted the police, with Eleanor Holmes Norton following up, to restore the vigil this afternoon.

Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.

Peace Vigil was removed temporarily
Peace Vigil reinstated today

Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.

There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.

Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it. Continue reading

CODEPINK to camp out on Congress’ doorstep until Syria vote

Activists from CODEPINK set up “camp” on an Independence Avenue sidewalk on Friday evening, just a few steps from the U.S. Capitol building. They had to clear out just a few hours later, but they’ll be back Saturday morning when their permit kicks in.

After that, they don’t intend to leave until the House votes on the Authorization of Military Force in Syria resolution sometime next week.

CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin said, “We’re here for a peace insurrection. We’re going to build it over the weekend and be ready on Monday when Congress comes back from a long vacation.”

U.S. Capitol Police however were clearly uncomfortable with protestors hanging out on the corner so close to the Capitol building, playing loud music, dancing and displaying large anti-war banners.

CODEPINK is calling the camp “Peace Insurrection,” a base for people to express their opposition to proposed military intervention in Syria. President Obama is pressing Congress for authorization to launch missiles into Syria after the al-Assad regime allegedly gassed civilians in the Damascus region with chemical weapons. Continue reading

Bombing Syria, a short-sighted proposition bound to go off-course

by Rob Brune

The White House is touting a so-called humanitarian bombing campaign while pushing the line that Syria will not be the next Iraq. “Iraq and Syria are in no way analogous,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

Al Qa'Qaa bunker in Iraq
Al Qa’Qaa bunker in Iraq

How can we forget that within the first couple months of bombing and “boots on the ground” in Iraq, Baathist insurgents moved in to grab 380 tons of high explosives from the Al Qa’Qaa bunker? It wasn’t like we didn’t know the risk. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned that terrorists might “help themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.”

If the U.S. bombs the holy hell out of Syria’s chemical weapons supply, who will be there to secure the remains of those chemical weapons? It’s a realistic expectation that they will fall into the hands of radical factions of the Free Syrian Army affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Bashar al-Assad is a bona fide madman. Rather than deter him, a bombing campaign will likely provoke him to use more chemical weapons. The whole discussion of a military intervention is short-sighted. Bombing Syria is a proposition that will go sideways faster than Obama and his supporters in Congress think.

UPDATE:

The good news is that someone has thought through this scenario. The bad news is that to secure Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles–estimated at 1,000 tons–the U.S. would have to deploy 75,000 troops:

The potential of strategic US strikes in Syria has sparked fears Damascus’ chemical weapons could fall into the wrong hands if the government is toppled. A recent congressional report says 75,000 troops would be needed to safeguard the WMD caches.

The Congressional Research Center (CRS) report, issued just one day before the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, was compiled with the aim of “responding to possible scenarios involving the use, change of hands, or loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons.”

That’s 150,000 “boots on the ground.”

50 Years Later, We Still Have a Dream

For the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the NYC Light Brigade, Veterans For Peace, Get Equal, and activists from across the country have illuminated the message: “We Have A Dream – Jobs Not War.”

We need a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom every bit as much today as we did fifty years ago.

We_Have_A_Dream

Jobs_Not_War

Miranda case shows, anti-terrorism laws used against us, not terrorists

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.

A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”

According to the UK’s Home Office, “The government and police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.”

Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”

International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”

Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.

In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.

The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.

The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.